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Church relieved as Yemen confirms kidnapped Indian priest is ‘alive’

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil

(World Watch Monitor) The Church in India, especially in the southern state of Kerala, is breathing a sign of relief after Yemen confirmed to India’s foreign minister that Catholic missionary Father Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped in Yemen in March 2016, is “alive”.

“We are thrilled to hear that good news,” Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the autonomous Syro-Malabar Church, to which the kidnapped priest belongs, told World Watch Monitor.

Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi, Deputy Prime Minister of Yemen, broke the news to Sushma Swaraj, Indian External Affairs (foreign) Minister on 12 July when they met for bilateral talks in the Indian capital.

“We are very hopeful now. The news brings great joy to us,” V A Thomas, first cousin of the kidnapped priest, told World Watch Monitor from their home in Ramapuram, near Palai, in the Christian heartland of Kerala.

“We are very happy with the developments and hope he will be released soon.” -V A Thomas

Father Uzhunnalil, 58, was kidnapped on 4 March in Aden in Yemen, from the Missionaries of Charity home for the elderly. Four nuns were murdered, along with 12 others, during the attack by unidentified gunmen.

While a first false rumour was of the crucifixion of the kidnapped priest on Good Friday 2016, a video of him in captivity surfaced around Christmas 2016, with the visibly unkempt and ailing priest urging the government of India and the Church to ensure his release from captivity.

That led to a series of assurances from the government of India, while the Catholic Church organised several demonstrations, including a day of prayer and candlelit vigils, urging the government to ensure the kidnapped priest’s safe release.

second video appeal by the priest surfaced on the Internet in May, with the priest stating that serious efforts have not been made by the Church or the government to ensure his release. “They are treating me well to the extent they are able,” Fr Uzhunnalil said slowly in English. “My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalization as early as possible.”

“In that video appeal, Father Tom had even requested us [his family] to put pressure [on the government] to ensure his release,” said his cousin, V A Thomas, who was also headmaster to Father Uzhunnalil when he was a student at the local Catholic school in the 1970s.

The extended Uzhunnalil family clan, Thomas pointed out, had been “consistently pleading with everyone to ensure Fr Tom’s release” and have called on several top government leaders.

After the second video emerged, Thomas said that he led a four-member Uzhunnalil delegation to meet P Sathasivam, the Kerala Governor, along with Oommen Chandy, former chief minister of Kerala, on 31 May.

Three days earlier, the federal government had dispatched Richard Hay, a Christian Member of the Indian Parliament (who’d been nominated by the ruling BJP government), to the family in Palai, to assure them that the government was making serious efforts “to bring the back the priest home safely”.

“We are very happy with the developments and hope he will be released soon,” Thomas said.

However, he added that “due to the big public interest in the safety of Fr Tom, there are reports that the demands of the kidnappers have gone up”.

The External Affairs Ministry in its press statement said that the foreign minister has “stressed the government’s concern for the safety and well-being of Father Tom Uzhunnalil … and reiterated the request for continued assistance from the Yemeni authorities in securing his safe and early release”.

According to reports, terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are said to have bases in parts of Yemen, resulting in instability in the country.

12-hour Prayer Event for the Persecuted Church – Saturday July 29

JOIN THE CALL!

Why Pray for the Persecuted Church?
Because we love Jesus and we love our persecuted brothers and sisters.  A simple enough answer to a straightforward question.  1 Corinthians 16:13-14 exhorts us to,
••• Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men. Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.•••
Those followers of Jesus in nations hostile to the gospel are willing to lay down their lives for Him.  They do so, but not out of obligatory command. These believers are willing to lay all down for Him because they love Him.  They love Him because He loved them first ( 1 John 4:19).
Our persecuted brothers and sisters have had an experience with Jesus.  They have come to realize that Jesus is worth suffering for. They see the incredible love that Jesus showed by His sacrifice for them.  For Jesus says in John 15:13,
 
••• Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.•••
Because of what Jesus has done in the lives of our persecuted family in Christ, they are willing to suffer much for Jesus. They are willing to suffer persecution and even martyrdom because He is worthy. Our brother, the Apostle Paul writes to the Philippian believers,
••• But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.••• Phil. 3:7-11
 
Paul had apprehended such an incredible revelation of Jesus that he was willing to suffer all for His sake. The early believers counted it a privilege to suffer for the Lord Jesus Christ in view of what He had done for them.  For these early believers were able to grasp our Savior’s love so amazing and passionate that He suffered for them on the cross. Consequently they were willing to take up their cross out of a love for Him and His sake.
Today, the story is still the same for the persecuted church.  Many of our persecuted family suffer torture and martyrdom because they consider Jesus to be worthy. They’re only plea of us who enjoy political freedom is that we pray for them.
Will you please join us in a 12-hour prayer conference call on Saturday July 29th as we pray out our hearts of love for our persecuted family? These precious saints are willing to lay all down for Jesus because they consider Him worthy. They do this out of a heart of love. They do this out of His love for them.
If we have apprehended the love of Christ in our lives. If we say we love Him. Then please come join us in your heart of love and lift up our persecuted brothers and sisters, on the call. Details are below.

Location: Any location from your phone

When: Saturday July 29, 2017

Length of call: 12 Hours (Note: You’re not required to commit to 12 hours. Come on the call and pray as your time allows.)

Time of the Call:

9 a.m.- 9 p.m. Eastern time

8 a.m.-8 p.m.  Central time

7 a.m.-7 p.m.  Mountain time

6 a.m.-6 p.m. Pacific time

Call number: 712.775.7035
Access code: 281207#

We believe prayer works. Stay on the call 5 minutes, 5 hours, or as long as you feel led. Your prayers make a huge difference in the lives of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.

Lord willing, I look forward to praying with you on the 12-hour call.

Your brother in Christ,

Blaine Scogin

pwprayercall@gmail.com

Serving Jesus as Prayer Director of Voice of the Persecuted and Persecution Watch.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24

PRINT PRAYER CALL FLYER: View and download printable PDF flyer here

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Pakistan’s Calculated Spin on Apparent Killing of Chinese Evangelists

Meng Li Si (Meng Lisi) and Lee Zing Yang (Li Xinheng ). (iFeng.com photo)

(Morning Star News) – Islamabad’s claim that “violations” of business visas contributed to the murder of two Chinese evangelists last month served key government purposes.

Lee Zing Yang (Li Xinheng is said to be the more accurate rendering), 24, and Meng Li Si (Meng Lisi), 26, were teaching Chinese to people in Pakistan, and, like any Christian, they also intended to share the gospel with people they met. Pakistani media dutifully broadcast the Interior Ministry spin on their apparent deaths, which accused the couple of “preaching” – suggesting that it violated terms of their business visas (it was not clear how), and wrongly implying that they were exhorting crowds of people to believe in Christ.

Reports state that Lee and Meng were paid 30,000 rupees (US$280) per month to teach Chinese to people in Pakistan at a language institute run by a South Korean, Juan Won Seo. The interior ministry released a statement asserting that security officials told Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in a June 12 meeting that, “Instead of engaging in any business activity, they went to Quetta and under the garb of learning [the] Urdu language from a Korean national …were actually engaged in preaching.”

The apparent error that they were there to learn Urdu aside, Khan’s announcement, which included a call to tighten processes for issuing business visas, sent the message that the pair’s kidnapping and apparent murder resulted from allegedly violating terms of their visas.

Lee and Meng were kidnapped off the streets of Quetta, capital of northwestern Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, on May 24. The Islamic State-affiliated news agency Amaq reported on June 8 that IS fighters had killed two Chinese teachers being held in Mastung, Balochistan, and IS released a video showing what are believed to be their bodies shot and bleeding.

Pakistan reportedly confirmed that the Chinese teachers had been killed, though it was unclear if officials had recovered their bodies.

The interior minister’s emphasis on the need to shore up the visa process, rather than improving security against Islamic extremists, served the government’s purpose of deflecting blame. It also sent a chilling message to foreign Christian evangelists. Previously the government had leaked news that two Korean Christians, 27-year-old Kown Ki Ye and 23-year-old Lee Ha Gyeong, had been expelled from a private hostel in Quetta after they were discovered “preaching Christianity” to students at Sardur Bahadur Khan Women’s University in Quetta.

“The government has deliberately leaked this information to create panic in the foreign missionary circles,” a source told Morning Star News.

The interior ministry’s spin on the murder of the Chinese pair also served its purpose in relations with China, which has pledged to invest $57 billion in infrastructure in Pakistan designed to link China with the Middle East and Europe. The capital for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPC) has put China in position to make demands of Pakistan that have raised criticism within Pakistan.

Besides helping to preserve the enormous CPC investment, the government’s statements on the killing of Lee and Meng were done deliberately to check China’s position in bilateral relations, a Foreign Affairs ministry contact told Morning Star News. Pakistan has since bolstered its position vis-a-visa China by boosting security for Chinese nationals.

Pakistan has also deported Juan Won Seo, accusing him of setting up a phony business as a cover for a church and “preaching activities.” A South Korean official has denied this claim. True or not, whether Seo broke any laws by telling others about Christ while operating a language institute in Pakistan remains unclear.

While Islam is the state religion of Pakistan, its constitution states that all citizens have the right to profess, practice, and propagate their religion, as well as the right to freedom of speech subject to “reasonable restrictions in the interest of the glory of Islam.”

What does seem certain is that Pakistani officials have violated international standards of religious freedom and free speech by deporting foreign evangelists and suggesting that those who exercise their faith are responsible for violence done to them.

Christians in Coastal Kenya Fearful after Slaughter of 13 Non-Muslims

Kenya (Morning Star News) – Al Shabaab militia over the weekend killed 13 non-Muslims, mostly Christians, in coastal Kenya, sources said.

Village Muslims in the Pandanguo settlement of Lamu County helped Islamic extremists from the Somalia-based Al Shabaab identify locations where the Christians resided, a survivor of the attack told Morning Star News from a hospital in Mpeketoni. Several of the victims were beheaded.

The assailants killed four non-Muslims in Kipini (sometimes called Kadundu) on Sunday (July 9), not far from the Boni forest, a reputed hiding place of Al Shabaab rebels battling the government in Somalia. Early Saturday morning in Jima they killed nine non-Muslims in attacks that began at around 11 p.m. the previous night, shooting some and hacking others to death with machetes, including beheadings, area sources said.

“The Christians were asked to recite the Islamic dogmas, which they could not, hence they were killed,” a source said. “We urged the government to investigate and bring to book these local Muslims who are harboring these Al Shabaab terrorists, because the Christians who were decapitated were farmers.”

Those who managed to flee and survived have had their crops damaged by wild animals and are still in great shock, the source added.

“The government has now beefed up security in the area, and we hope the victims who fled will soon return back, but they need some trauma counseling first,” he said.

Area Christians have now left their villages.

“We are now residing at the police station in Hindi for fear of possible attacked,” one area resident told Morning Star News.

Many area people are still missing or unaccounted for, and there are fears the casualty toll may increase.

Two other sources in Lamu County said Christians in the coastal region of Kenya are in serious crisis as they face food shortages after fleeing their farms.

Acting Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i has imposed a three-month curfew in Lamu, Tana River, and Garissa counties in an effort to counter Al Shabaab’s attacks. The curfew began on Sunday (July 9) and is in effect until Oct. 9.

Rebels from Al Shabaab, which is allied with Al Qaeda, have launched several attacks in northeast Kenya since Kenyan forces led an African coalition into Somalia against the rebels in October 2011 in response to terrorist attacks on tourists and others on Kenya’s coast. Attacks on non-Muslims on Kenya’s coast have also continued.

Kenya ranked 18th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Christian Families in India Forced into Hindu Ritual, Denied Water

India (Morning Star News) – Villagers in Uttar Pradesh state, India beat Christians, forced them to participate in Hindu rituals and have refused to provide them water, sources said.

Four families who were attacked in Jalalabad village, Ghazipur District rely on the water to irrigate their fields, they said.

“How will we survive if we don’t grow our crops?” Sasikala Kumari asked Morning Star News, noting that the village head and police have allowed the Hindus to cut off the Christians water supply. “They have all joined together and are conspiring against us.”

Hindu villagers on April 25 beat with sticks Manoj Kumar, his wife Pushpa Kumari and three other Christian couples, including Sasikala Kumari and her husband Ramkreet Ram – and accused them of forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity.

“The mob supported by the village president forced us to drink gangajal [water from the Ganges River, considered holy), eat tulsi [basil considered holy] leaves and declare that we deny Christ,” Pushpa Kumari told Morning Star News. “When we resisted, the men and women of the village beat us even more severely.”

The four couples along with four other Christians refused to participate in the ritual or deny Christ. A total of 13 other younger Christians felt compelled to participate in the Hindu ritual and deny Christ, they said.

“The youths were forced by the extremists to consume gangajal and tulsi leaves and deny Christ,” Pushpa Kumari told Morning Star News. “The village president instigates the mob to attack whoever converts to Christianity.”

When the Christians went to the Dullapur police station to file a complaint against the assailants, village President Santosh Kumar Gupta arrived also and accused them of forcible conversion.

Gupta denied that he and the other Hindus pressured the Christians to deny Christ and participate in the Hindu ritual, telling Morning Star News that the incident was a mere quibble between the two groups.

The matter went before police, he said.

Manoj Kumar, who leads prayers in his house on Sundays since the families do not have the means to travel into town for worship, said police listened to both sides.

“The villagers were against us, they made false allegations that we are forcibly converting the people,” Manoj Kumar said. “The police asked the villagers to let anyone follow their own Dharma [religious teaching] peacefully, and that nobody shall disturb the prayer services in the village’s house church.”

In the presence of the village head, the Hindu villagers said they would abide by the police request, and neither side filed a formal complaint. The agreement, however, made no mention of water service, and the villagers have refused to sell it to the Christians.

“As a result, we aren’t allowed our share of supply of water in the fields,” Manoj Kumar told Morning Star News. “We are ready to pay the hourly price, but the president and villagers have decided to not let us irrigate. Our field is going dry; it’s burned dead.”

Village President Gupta told Morning Star News he cannot prevent the Hindus from cutting off the Christians’ water.

“As far as the problem about the supply of water, it’s personal,” he said. “If nobody in the village wants to sell them water from the bore wells, it’s their personal choice.”

Asked if a basic commodity like water can be denied to a people on religious grounds in a secular country like India, Gupta said the families have not complained to him about it. Had they come, he said, he would have resolved it.

The families said the village president’s statement was untrue.

“We went to him twice now,” Pushpa Kumari said. “Gupta’s wife told us to bring the attackers to their house, and she will solve our problem. Why would the attackers come?”

The Christians approached the village head a third time on Wednesday (June 14), but they said he only told them, “You must get down from your high horse. Stop the worship services in the village. Stop following Christ, only then water will be supplied to your fields.”

Some of the attackers, identified only as Vijay, Hari, Rajender, Mukh Lal and Sonu, are part of a village committee that aids of the village president, Manoj Kumar said.

The sub-inspector of police of Dullapur in whose presence the matter was settled in the first week of May declined to comment, saying he had been transferred to another post.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.

 

Iraqi Assyrian Girl Freed From Islamic State Says ‘Mum, Dad’ Again

Iraqi Assyrian Christina Ezzo Abada, a former hostage of Islamic State militants for three years, sits next to her sister inside a cramped home at a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq June 10, 2017. ( Reuters/Erik De Castro)

(AINA) Reuters– A six-year old Iraqi Christian girl, kidnapped by Islamic State when she was three, was reunited with her family on Friday, and getting used to saying “mum” and “dad” once more.

“The best day of my life is the day when Christina came back,” said her mother, Aida Nuh, on Saturday.

Dark circles around her eyes are evidence of sleepless nights since August 2014, when the militants snatched Christina from her, a few weeks after overrunning the town of Qaraqosh, 15 km (10 miles) southeast of Mosul.

“She stayed three years with the terrorists. Of course she forgot who her mother is, who her father is, that we are her family, but she will learn again.”

Islamic State has kidnapped thousands of men, women and children from Iraq’s minorities, mainly Yazidis.

Christians who did not or could not escape in time were faced with an ultimatum – pay a tax for protection, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Some, like Christina, were kidnapped.

Christian families who remained in Qaraqosh were forcibly displaced on Aug. 22, 2014. The militants took away Christina from the minibus which had driven them to the edge of Islamic State territory, after threatening Aida, who desperately resisted.

The family’s efforts to track her though Arab friends were rewarded on Friday, when they got a call telling them Christina had been found in Hayy al-Tanak, a poor neighborhood of Mosul.

Eighth months into the U.S-backed offensive to take back Mosul, all of the city has fallen to Iraqi government forces except a pocket by the western bank of the Tigris river.

We went to a dirty place in Hayy el-Tanak (..), we took the child,” said Christina’s blind father, Khader Touma, wearing dark glasses and surrounded by the family now complete with the return of his youngest daughter.

Her two sisters and two brothers had escaped to Kurdish territory before the arrival of the militants.

“I’m with mum and dad,” said Christina, playing with a plastic toy, in a mobile home for displaced people in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of the Kurdish capital Erbil, east of Mosul.

The parents said they now hoped to emigrate, to put their ordeal behind them.

In the meantime, they face a long wait in the cramped cabin, because their home in Qaraqosh was almost completely destroyed in the fighting to dislodge the militants.

Syndicated News
By Hamuda Hassan and Isabel Coles

Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Andrew Bolton.

Half of Syria and Iraq’s Christians have left since 2011, says report

(World Watch Monitor) Three years to the day since the Islamic State group took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul, a new report estimates that 50-80% of the Christian populations of Iraq and Syria have emigrated since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

The arrival of IS was only the “tipping point” of a trend already gathering pace as Christians experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future”, according to the report, produced by Christian charities Open Doors, Served and Middle East Concern.

The report also notes that for the Christians who have settled elsewhere, there is “little incentive” to return, with several interviewees saying “the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians”.

“There is little incentive to return, with several interviewees saying the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians.”

In a policy paper released alongside the report, the three charities call on the EU to help establish an “accountability mechanism” to deal with incidents of religious and ethnic persecution and discrimination in Iraq and Syria.

“Creating a national accountability mechanism for grievances is a long-term solution which aims to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities,” the charities write.

They urge the EU to “advocate for the establishment of the mechanism through its contacts with the Iraqi and Syrian governments” and to provide funding, technical support and monitoring. The mechanism, the charities add, “should be transparent and inclusive, ensuring all key stakeholders at all levels (government, community leaders, civil society and the public) are represented adequately”.

Major findings

The report, ‘Understanding the recent movements of Christians leaving Syria and Iraq’, acknowledges the difficulty of producing definitive figures, as it estimates that the overall Christian population of Iraq has reduced from “well over 300,000” in 2014 to 200,000-250,000 today – “many” of whom are now displaced internally. In Syria, meanwhile, the charities estimate that the Christian population of around 2 million in 2011 has “roughly halved”.

“Factors for leaving included the violence of conflict, including the almost complete destruction of some historically Christian towns in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, the emigration of others and loss of community, the rate of inflation and loss of employment opportunities, and the lack of educational opportunities,” the report notes. “While direct violence, such as the movements of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, was the tipping point for displacement, the ultimate decision to leave the countries was portrayed as an accumulation of factors over time.”

A greater number of Christians are thought to have left Syria, but only because the initial population was higher, according to the report, which adds that a greater proportion of Iraq’s Christians have left the country.

The Christians have emigrated via a range of routes, including resettlement programmes through churches, formal refugee registration and “illegal routes” – though the deaths of Christians trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe have reportedly “dissuaded some”, while “the high price of these routes have made them unavailable for others”.

Lebanon has reportedly taken in the most Christians, while thousands more have resettled in Jordan and Turkey, and a smaller number in European countries such as Sweden and Germany. However, “recent policy changes, as well as living conditions, have made arrival or staying in many of these countries, such as Sweden, incredibly difficult”, the report concludes, adding: “There were reports of returns [home], but many expressed the sentiment that Christians have given up hope of returning.”

However, the charities note that “many” of those who remain “want to play their part in rebuilding the shattered societies of Iraq and Syria. They want to be seen as Iraqi or Syrian citizens, enjoying the full rights of citizenship, such as equality before the law and full protection of their right to freedom of religion or belief, including the ability for everyone to freely worship, practise, teach, choose and change their religion. They are not calling for special privileges as a religious minority.”

Belarus: Priest forced out after ten years

(Forum 18) reports that after ten years’ service as a parish priest Fr Robert Maciejewski was forced to return to his native Poland because Belarus’ senior state religious affairs official refused the Catholic bishop’s request to extend state permission for him to continue religious work.

Another foreign Catholic priest has been forced to leave Belarus after the authorities refused to extend permission for him to continue to serve in the country. Polish citizen Fr Robert Maciejewski – who served as parish priest in Mstislav in Mogilev [Mahilyow] Region for almost ten years – had to leave Belarus on 25 April.

Fr Maciejewski left Belarus because the authorities had not extended his permit to carry out religious activities, the spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Fr Yuri Sanko, confirmed to Forum 18 from the capital Minsk on 23 May. Fr Sanko did not explain the reasons for the denial.

Fr Maciejewski’s enforced departure from Belarus came two weeks after the diocesan head, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, had called for the state to end the requirement that foreign citizens need permission to conduct any religious activity (see below).

Another Polish Catholic priest who left Belarus at the end of May after 28 years’ service had seen his application for Belarusian citizenship rejected five years ago.

Meanwhile, organisers of a bike ride in mid-May to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the publication of the first translation of books of the Bible into Belarusian were told both the ride and meetings they had planned in several towns along the route were banned.

And court bailiffs visited New Life Full Gospel Church in Minsk in late April in a renewed attempt to force it to vacate the building it bought and has used for worship for 14 years. Church leaders hope that negotiations with the authorities will resolve the dispute. Read full article.

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