UCA News Podcast

UCA News Weekly Summary, November 20, 2020

Episode Summary

Across Asia, natural calamities made headlines this week as many nations continued to struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic. The region also earned a black mark for state restrictions on religious freedom.

Episode Notes

Listen to news from and about the Church in Asia in a capsule around 10 minutes.

Across Asia, natural calamities made headlines this week as many nations continued to struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic. The region also earned a black mark for state restrictions on religious freedom. 

Text written by Rock Ronald Rozario, Christopher Joseph and Edited by Peter Hill, presented by John Laurenson, background score by Andre Louis and produced by Binu Alex. 

For news in and about the Church in Asia, visit www.ucanews.com

Global perspectives on religion, culture, politics, economy, science, technology and much more. Engage in compelling articles and unique insights into the Vatican and the Catholic Church. Click here to get the offer

Episode Transcription

Across Asia, natural calamities made headlines this week as many nations continued to struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic. The region also earned a black mark for state restrictions on religious freedom. 

Government restrictions on religion have reached an all-time high across the globe and the Asia-Pacific region is the worst offender, says the latest study by Washington-based think tank Pew Research Center. It reported that the levels of restrictions — laws, policies and actions that invade religious beliefs and practices — increased significantly in 2018. The number of countries with “high” and “very high” levels of government restrictions rose from 52 countries in 2017 to 56 countries in 2018, and more than half of them were from the Asia-Pacific region. As usual, China had the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index out of all 198 countries and territories. China is followed in the list by other Asian countries including India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines.

In the Philippines, the Catholic Church’s social arm Caritas has warned Catholics to be careful when giving donations to so-called church groups supposedly helping victims of recent typhoons that killed dozens and displaces thousands. The agency said it has received reports about fake typhoon donation campaigns on social media, including Facebook, that asked churchgoers to deposit money in the bank accounts of bogus foundations. The country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council issued a similar warning. Meanwhile, Pope Francis has promised to offer support to Filipino aid workers helping thousands of poor people. The pope also prayed for those killed in the disasters. 

In Vietnam, Catholic bishops plan to organize a musical concert to raise funds for the victims of tropical storms and flooding. Local media reported that in October alone, seven tropical storms and typhoons battered central provinces in Vietnam, causing severe flooding and landslides that left 130 dead and 214 injured, and damaged houses, public facilities and crops worth US$100 million. On Tuesday, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam announced that a charity musical concert would be held on November 27 in Ho Chi Minh City to raise funds and help disaster victims to restore their normal lives. The concert aims to attract benefactors regardless of their social position and faith.

In Indonesia, the Indonesian Jesuit Alumni Association is organizing a fundraising campaign to help schools in remote areas struggling financially due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Caritas Christmas Cross Challenge is a virtual sporting event that allows participants to donate money to Catholic schools manually or electronically. This supports the educational assistance program run by Caritas Indonesia in collaboration with the Education Commission of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference, the Economic Empowerment Commission and Jakarta Archdiocese's Daya Dharma Institute. 

In South Korea, the government has tightened social distancing norms in capital Seoul and surrounding areas and banned gatherings of more than 100 people even for religious services amid threats of a nationwide spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, the country reported 313 new cases, its highest daily toll since August. South Korea has reported more than 29,600 Covid-19 infections with 498 deaths in its population of 52 million people. 

In neighboring Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga placed the country on “maximum alert” after the country reported more than 2,000 Covid-19 infections in a single day for the first time on Wednesday. A total of 2,191 cases were reported compared with the previous high of 1,720 last Sunday. Capital Tokyo, a mega city of more than 14 million people, reported a record high of 493 cases. Unlike the second wave of the outbreak in August, the current surge pushed up hospitalizations as Japan’s healthcare system is struggling to cope with the third wave.

In Myanmar, the human toll caused by landmines and explosive remnants of war continues to rise as fighting rages in ethnic areas. The United Nations said 52 people were killed and 148 injured including children due to landmines and other explosives in the first nine months of this year, which is about 88 percent of the casualties in the whole of 2019. 

Meanwhile, thousands of people took to the streets of Yangon, Mandalay and elsewhere in Myanmar to celebrate the resounding victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in the November 8 general election. They defied coronavirus restrictions as they waved party flags and sang songs. The military-backed USDP and ethnic-based parties performed poorly in the election as the NLD won 396 of the 498 contested seats in parliament.

In Pakistan, a road in the southern port city of Karachi has been named after an Irish Catholic nun to recognize her services to education. Born in Ireland in 1930, Sister Berchmans Conway joined the Convent of Jesus and Mary in 1951 in Willesden, London. She moved to Pakistan at the age of 24 and spent her life in the cities of Karachi, Lahore and Murree. The nun was awarded the Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam, one of the country’s highest civilian awards, for her 59 years of service. In 2019, Sister Berchmans was decorated with the Benedict Medal by St. Mary’s University, London, at Westminster Cathedral. 

A Pakistani Islamist political party and strong supporter of the country’s draconian blasphemy laws, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, ended its blockade on capital Islamabad after a deal with the government. The deal includes the government’s expulsion of the French ambassador within two to three months, not to post an ambassador to France, a boycott of French products at government level and the release of arrested TLP members. Protests broke out in Pakistan and other Muslim countries over controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by French magazine Charlie Hebdo and projected onto French government buildings.

In neighboring India, Christian leaders have appealed to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help end the detention of 84-year-old Jesuit Stan Swamy after the priest wrote to a colleague saying that his deteriorating health has rendered him unable to eat or drink without help from jail inmates. A delegation led by Bishop Derek Fernandes of Belgaum handed over memoranda addressed separately to the president and prime minister to the deputy commissioner of Belagavi district in the southern state of Karnataka on Tuesday. Father Swamy was arrested on October 8 on allegations of sedition and having links with a banned Maoist group. He has twice been denied bail. 

In India’s Chhattisgarh state, some 100 Christians have returned to their villages following a court order, almost two months after they were attacked and driven out of their homes by a suspected Hindu radical group in three villages in the state's Bastar region on September 22 and 23. The attack came after the villagers refused a demand to abandon their faith in Jesus Christ. Despite their return, the villagers still fear threats of attacks and eviction.

In Bangladesh, a senior Catholic official has joined opposition to a plan for construction of a five-star hotel and leisure park that could displace hundreds of indigenous Mro villagers in Bandarban district. Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, joined protesters and 62 eminent citizens to deplore the planned hotel and amusement park in the Chimbuk Hill area of Bandarban where ethnic Mro people have been living in six villages for decades. 

On a positive note, three leading Catholic charities — Caritas Bangladesh, Jesuit Refugee Service and Catholic Relief Service — have launched a joint venture to assist thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladeshi camps who fled persecution in Myanmar. The new project called Multipurpose Adolescent Center aims for psychological development of children, counselling, skill development for adolescents, care for expectant mothers, child care and care for children with special needs.