On this day, June 6, (D-Day) people all over the world, especially here in American, will remember the 73rd anniversary of the Normandy invasion that forever changed history. A day which TIME magazine called, “24 HOURS THAT SAVED THE WORLD”. Today, we pause to remember the 130,000 heroic American and Allied troops who risked their lives to liberate Europe and end the Nazi occupation.
Almighty Father, lead us. On their wicked quest for power and control, help us to stand against those who incite fear through death and terror. Give us victory over evil hearts and minds. In Jesus name, we pray.
(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.
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A Christian sanitation worker in Pakistan died on Thursday (June 1) after Muslim doctors refused to treat him for poisonous gas he was exposed to in a sewer, sources said.
Doctors at Civil Hospital Medical refused to treat 28-year-old Irfan Masih of Umerkot City, Sindh Province, saying they did not want to touch the filth-covered worker during the Islamic month of Ramandan, Masih’s brother told Morning Star News.
Babar Masih said that his brother entered a deep manhole to clear a sewage line but smelled poisonous gas and called out for help.
“Irfan’s coworkers did not have the equipment to pull him out, so another worker, Yaqoob Masih, descended into the manhole to rescue him,” he said. “However, both men inhaled the fumes and fainted. Two other Christian sanitary workers, Faisal Masih and Shaukat Masih, went after them but they also fainted.”
Area passers-by managed to rescue the four men, who were taken to Umerkot Civil Hospital, he said. The doctors on duty, however, said they were fasting and would not touch the Christian, who was covered in sewage filth, he said.
“The doctors said they refused to treat him because they were fasting and said he was ‘napaak [unclean],’” Baba Masih said.
Family members cleaned Masih’s body, he added, after which the doctors sent for an oxygen cylinder.
“But the cylinder was empty” he said. “And, before they could arrange another cylinder, he died.”
The family then held a protest, carrying his body from the hospital to the Umerkot Press Club, where they demonstrated for about 10 hours, demanding the registration of a criminal case.
Based on a complaint by Irfan Masih’s father, Nazeer Masih, Umerkot Police registered a case on Friday (June 2) against Civil Hospital Medical Superintendent Jam Kunbhar, a medical officer identified only as Yusuf and duty doctor Allahdad Rathore, and three employees of the Umerkot Municipal Committee – Sanitation Inspector Behari Lal, Khalid Khoso and Sarwan Malhi. Kunbhar was reportedly arrested.
The doctors are accused of criminal negligence and manslaughter under sections 319 and 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code, for allegedly refusing Irfan Masih treatment.
Health Director General Akhlaq Khan reportedly said that after his initial investigation, Irfan Masih’s death was not a result of the doctors’ negligence, but that they were at fault to some degree.
Officials from the Pakistan Medical Association later carried out a demonstration against the arrest of Kunbhar and case filed against the doctors, claiming that the accusations were fabricated. They threatened to boycott the Outdoor Patient Department and emergency services wards throughout the district if Kunbhar is not released.
Insisting that Masih was alive when he arrived at the hospital, the deceased’s family reportedly insisted that after Yusuf looked at him in the emergency room and then went outside.
At the same time, the municipal committee employees are accused of failing to provide him and the other Christian sanitary workers with the necessary safety kits and gear. Protesting workers alleged that Umerkot Municipal Committee officials had forced Irfan Masih and others to work in the manhole without safety gear.
Some 60 Christians are employed by the Umerkot Municipal Committee on daily wages.
“They always threaten us with consequences of losing our jobs if we don’t obey their directives,” Christian sanitation worker Ghafoor Masih told local media.
The municipal committee’s chairman and administrative officers were unavailable for comment.
Several sanitation workers have reportedly lost their lives due to toxic gases in manholes. Overall, hundreds of people have lost their lives working for the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA), but their families do not receive benefits that other government employees get because the workers lack regular status despite working decades for the department.
Though Christians account for 90 percent of sewage workers and an even high percentage of sweepers, they make up only 2.45 percent of Pakistan’s population, which is more than 95 percent Muslim, according to Operation World.
Christian sanitation workers face extremely dangerous work conditions. When sewer lines clog because they are too small, these workers are not provided any protective gear as they sometimes dive 30 to 50 feet below ground into manholes filled with toxic water.
A large proportion of the Christian minority in Pakistan became sanitation workers for historical reasons. Sweeping in pre-Partition India was a job reserved for the lower castes. A large segment of lower Indian castes converted to Christianity after 1850, under British rule, to improve their lives.
The British continued these caste differences in the interests of convenience, economy and efficiency, and the colonial legacy inherited by the government of Pakistan has remained. After partition, even greater numbers of Christians were drawn to this profession; several landless Christian agricultural laborers who migrated to Pakistan took up the task of sweeping and sanitation in large cities in order to survive.
“Christian sanitation workers are discriminated against both by Muslims and by fellow Christians engaged in other professions,” said rights activist Shakeel Naz. “Since their work is considered unclean, people tend to look down upon them. It would not be wrong to say that the Christian sanitation workers are treated like animals in Pakistan.”
Naz, who also runs a school for poor Christian children in Lahore’s Makkah Colony, said that people refuse to shake hands with sanitation workers and do not eat from the same plate as them.
“Even some of our Christian brethren look down on these workers,” he said.
Many poor workers, by virtue of being Christian, feel they are left with no choice but to work as sweepers and sanitary workers.
“In many cases, sanitation work is inherited inter-generationally, and Christians associated with this occupation refuse to take up other jobs,” he said. “Since a large number of Christian sanitary workers have been killed while cleaning gutters and manholes, the least that the government can do is to provide them with protective gear and proper healthcare facilities.”
PHILIPPINES – Bishop of Marawi: “Video appeal of Fr. Chito: critical phase, we fear for the lives of the hostages”
Marawi (Agenzia Fides) – “Terrorists have sought contact with the military and the institutions. They released a video where Fr. Soganub Teresito, called Fr. Chito, one of the group of about 15 Catholic hostages, launches an appeal to President Duterte asking for the end of the bombings and the attack in Marawi. As foreseeable, militants are now in difficulty, they are with their shoulders against the wall.
We are happy to see that Fr. Chito, Vicar of Marawi, is alive, but we are afraid of the fate of the hostages, about 200 civilians in all, now used as human shields”: This is what the bishop of Marawi, Edwin de la Pena says to Agenzia Fides, expressing his concern for this delicate phase of the ongoing crisis in Marawi, a town on the island of Mindanao. After a week of fighting, the army has taken control of much of the city: the jihadists of the “Maute” group, affiliated with Isis, remain barricaded in 9 “barangay” (districts) out of 96 in Marawi. Half of the residents (about 100,000 people) have abandoned the city, but a few thousand civilians are trapped in the cross fire. According to official figures, 19 civilians have lost their lives, 13 soldiers, four police officers, and 61 members of the Maute group. Among the latter, six fighters are foreign, Indonesians and Malaysians.
“Hostages are hidden, who militants want to use to save their lives and flee, in a building in the city”, the bishop explains to Fides. “We are really in pain, we do not know what the army will do and how the terrorists will react. We have asked for the help of Muslim leaders in Marawi, our friends, while the whole Catholic population is gathered in prayer throughout the country”, he adds.
There is also a humanitarian emergency in the area: more than 40,000 internally displaced persons are in evacuation centers, and as many have found shelter and have been welcomed by relatives or friends in neighboring areas. Catholic communities and civil society associations have been mobilizing for the solidarity and support of refugees.
By VOP Thailand
(Voice of the Persecuted) On Saturday, 27th May 2017, 10am local time, Pakistani Christian, Ejaz Masih, better known as Ejaz Paras, lost his life in the notorious Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in Bangkok, Thailand. He was arrested in June 2016 at his home near Seacon Square in Bangkok Thailand. His brother-in-law and sister in law were also arrested.
The 36 year old father of 3 (aged 11, 8 and 1 year old) had been inside the Immigration Detention Centre since his arrest. Mr. Ejaz’s death is the 3rd death inside the IDC, whereas dozens have died outside after going through the arduous asylum process which take years.
In communication with Ejaz’s family, our correspondent learned his wife had tried to bail her husband out, but authorities denied his bail. The IDC has been preventing bail for people from countries of concern, such as Pakistan, Syria and others including Sri lanka, after a terrorist attack took place at a Buddhist Shrine in Bangkok which killed 15 people in 2015. The Immigration Police reacted by closing bails for all detainees which previously had been the only way for refugees to be emancipated from the brutal incarceration inside Thailand’s notorious IDC.
Ejaz had been in Bangkok for over 3 years. He came with his extended family, including his in laws, when his wife’s cousin, Qaisar Ayub Bhatti, was accused of blasphemy. Mr. Bhatti, who was a Masters graduate in Computer Science, came to Thailand to seek asylum with UNHCR Thailand after he wrote what was consider blasphemous content by hardliners on a website he owned. The UNHCR scheduled his asylum interview date in 2019. Frustrated by such a long delay, he decided to go back to Pakistan. When he landed in Pakistan, he was tracked by the police and arrested for blasphemy. Currently, Bhatti is in Chakwal Central jail awaiting his trial. Ejaz Paras faced similar threats and had also been chased by zealots. Since Bhatti had been immediately arrested, Ejaz was afraid to go back to Pakistan and face further persecution.
Ejaz had a history of heart disease. In October 2016, he began suffering chest pains and was taken to hospital where he stayed for 8 days. Shackled to the bed, he was allowed a single visit with his children. They were grateful as this it was impossible at the IDC as they would not be allowed to visit their father. Upon his return to the IDC, Ejaz was asked to pay the hospital bills but he didn’t have a single penny with him. As a punishment for nonpayment, Ejaz was transferred to solitary confinement. A local priest helped to pay the hospital bills then Ejaz was sent back to the main cell, commonly known as Room #3.
On Saturday morning (May 27 2017), around 10am, Mr. Ejaz and other detainees were taken from their cell to an area designated for exhaustive exercise. All detainees are required to take part.
During the exercise, Mr. Ejaz complained to the prison guard of having severe chest pains and asked for immediate medical intervention. The prison guard ignored his plea as he thought that Mr. Ejaz is making excuses to avoid the exercise.
Seeing that his situation is getting worse, other detainees gathered 2000 Thai Baht so that Ejaz could be taken to the hospital. The officer denied every request and all detainees were sent to their cell where about 160 of them are incarcerated.
Ejaz went to the washroom to take a bath. Afterwards, he dressed and stepped outside the washroom, but immediately fell unconscious and urinated in his clothes. His tongue fell outside his mouth and he started to convulse. Seeing this, fellow Christians carried him away from washroom and a crowd gathered around him. The Immigration officers saw this in the CCTV camera fixed in the IDC cell and instantly sent a team, anticipating that a prison fight had broke out.
When the officers saw Ejaz convulsing in pain on the ground, they dragged him outside the cell and were not convinced he needed medical attention. After some time, they starting preparing the paper work to take him to the Hospital. However, since they delayed and allowed him to lay on the floor for 3 hours and the young father had already passed away before help was obtained. Later, his body was taken to the Police General Hospital and the autopsy revealed that he died of a heart attack.
Such a heartbreaking story. This young father’s death may have been prevented had the Immigration officers showed compassion. Instead, the officers acted ruthlessly with no value for his life, a human life. This Christian brother died leaving his wife and children behind to suffer in this ruthless environment.
We trust that he would be with God as Ejaz had complete trust in our savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” This brother indeed died as a martyr and has finished his race to be with our savior, Jesus Christ. He would be in the bosom of father Abraham. Revelation 14:13 states that, “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes.” Says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor for their deeds will follow them.”
His body now needs to be sent back to Pakistan for burial which could cost an estimated $500 – $600. The family also needs moral and financial support as they find it hard to make the ends meet. Please uplift this family in prayer. Help to support them if you are able and pray that the children will one day find a better future.
Please pray for persecuted Christian families suffering in Thailand. Pray the Thai government will soften their hearts towards them. And pray the UNHCR will find a way to speed up the unbearably long process of their asylum cases.
VOP is on the ground in Thailand. Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.
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(World Watch Monitor) UPDATE (25 May): Nine Christian civilians were reportedly shot dead at a militant-run checkpoint in the besieged city of Marawi in the southern Philippines on Tuesday (23 May).
Filipino news site GMA News Online – one of the biggest news and public affairs networks in the country – reported that local residents identified the nine as Christians, saying they had been pulled from a truck, had their hands bound and then their bodies riddled with bullets and left in a field.
This latest update comes as a Catholic priest and 13 other Christians are still reportedly being held by the Islamists, who have laid siege to the city, setting fire to buildings including a cathedral and Protestant-run college, and erecting the black flags of ISIS.
Reuters reports that the militants have been using the hostages as human shields, and have contacted cardinals, threatening to execute them unless government troops withdraw.
The governor of the Mindanao region, where Marawi is situated, said the rebels are from three extremist groups – Maute, Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to crush them, saying: “Anyone now holding a gun, confronting government with violence, my orders are spare no-one, let us solve the problems of Mindanao once and for all.
“If I think you should die, you will die. If you fight us, you will die. If there’s an open defiance, you will die, and if it means many people dying, so be it. That’s how it is.”
He added: “I made a projection, not a prediction, that one of these days the hardest things to deal with would be the arrival of ISIS. The government must put an end to this. I cannot gamble with ISIS because they are everywhere.”
Original article (24 May):
Chaos in the Philippines as Islamist group storms city, abducts Christians and sets church on fire
A Catholic priest and 13 other Christians were taken hostage, while a cathedral and Protestant-run college were among the buildings set on fire, when an extremist group which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State descended upon the city of Marawi in the southern Philippines yesterday (23 May).
Three fires broke out, as around 100 armed members of the Maute group fired off their weapons, beheaded a police chief and erected the black flags of ISIS.
The abducted priest was identified as Fr. Teresito Suganob, vicar-general of the prelature of Marawi, by a local bishop, Edwin De la Peña, who told the Catholic news agency Fides: “Today is the feast of our Prelature, the feast of ‘Mary, help of Christians’. The faithful were in church to pray on the last day of the novena. The terrorists broke into St Mary’s Cathedral, took the hostages and led them to an unknown location. They entered the bishop’s residence and kidnapped [Fr. Suganob]. Then they set fire to the cathedral and the bishop’s residence. Everything is destroyed. We are dismayed.
“The terrorists have occupied the city. People are terrified and locked in the house. We are waiting for the army’s reaction. The important thing is to regain the city with the least possible bloodshed. Hostages have not been mentioned. We have activated our channels, the Church and Islamic leaders, and we hope to be able to negotiate soon so they are released safe and sound.
“…We also appeal to Pope Francis to pray for us and to ask the terrorists to release the hostages in the name of our common humanity. Violence and hatred lead only to destruction: we ask the faithful all over the world to pray together with us for peace.”
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the Philippines, added that Fr. Suganob was “not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none. His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilised conflict.”
Meanwhile, three of the buildings belonging to Dansalan College, which was established by the Protestant United Church of Christ, were burnt down yesterday. On its website, the college says it espouses the importance of interfaith relationship, as 95% of its students are Muslim, while 80% of its staff are Christian.
Reports say a hospital, the city’s jail, and several other establishments were also taken over by the gunmen.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has reacted by cutting short a visit to Russia and imposing 60 days of martial law across the Mindanao region, where Marawi is situated. The 27 provinces and 33 cities in Mindanao make up roughly a third of the whole country.
Martial law gives more power to the military, including its ability to detain people for long periods without charge.
It is only the second time martial law has been imposed in the Philippines since the fall of former president Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Human rights groups and religious leaders criticised the president’s decision, calling it “uncalled for” and warning that it would “inevitably result in intensified military operations, including aerial strikes, which can kill and affect hundreds of civilians”.
Sixty days is the maximum period allowed for martial law under the Philippines’ Constitution, but President Duterte said in a video released by the government that “if it would take a year to [overcome the insurgents], then we’ll do it”.
After his return home today (24 May), Mr. Duterte said at a press briefing: “If I think that the ISIS has already taken foothold also in Luzon, and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people.”
Although the Philippines is a majority-Christian country, the region of Mindanao has a strong Muslim presence and is home to the Maute group, which stems from a violent Islamist movement called the Moro National Liberation Front, which sought independence for decades, hoping to create an independent Islamic state.
“On the ground, the people are asking for prayers,” a local source told World Watch Monitor. “The residents are threatened. They say homes are being trespassed, and that women not in hijabs are being taken away. The black flags are perched on top of a police car and a hospital. Social media screams with pleas for help, screenshots of texts of relatives on lockdown. One post says people must recite the shahada [Islamic profession of faith] when asked, else be killed.
“The fighting is said to spring from a hunt for Isnilon Hapilon, local Abu Sayaff leader tagged as the head of ISIS in the Philippines. Hapilon has not been caught.
“The military says things are in control now, and denies that ISIS was involved, saying the local Maute group was wreaking havoc only to get foreign attention.”
(World Watch Monitor) Jakarta’s Christian ex-governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as “Ahok”), has withdrawn his appeal against his two-year prison sentence for blasphemy in a controversial case that has challenged religious pluralism in Indonesia, with repeated clashes between Ahok’s supporters and radical Islamic groups.
It was for this reason, said Ahok, that he wished to drop his appeal “for the sake of our people and nation”.
“I know this is not easy for you to accept this reality, let alone me, but I have learned to forgive and accept all this,” he wrote in a letter that his tearful wife Veronica Tan read out at a news conference today (23 May). He also thanked his supporters and those who were praying for him, or sending him flowers, letters and books.
He also encouraged his supporters to forgive and accept the sentence. He showed concern for what could be the longer term results of a drawn out appeal process – for the people in Jakarta and beyond – as the likely protest rallies would cause Jakartans to “suffer great losses, in the form of traffic congestion and economic losses resulting from the rallies”.
He also warned of more division in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, saying: “It’s not right to hold rallies against each other over what I’m experiencing now. I’m concerned that many sides will exploit the rallies. There may be clashes with those who take issue with our struggle.”
According to the Bangkok Post, a source close to the family said that the decision to drop the appeal was made because Ahok’s efforts may be “blocked” further, saying his family had calculated all “political factors” before making the decision. The source refused to elaborate further.
Paul Marshall, Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University and senior fellow at the Leimena Institute in Jakarta, told World Watch Monitor that the possibility of an increased sentence on appeal could be one of the reasons why Ahok and his family might have decided not to challenge the sentence in the High Court.
“Another reason could be that the ex-governor is safe where he is now, inside the national police special force’s headquarters. He might not be safe outside. Also, there are major demonstrations in support of Ahok. His release at the moment may shift the momentum to the radicals”, said Marshall.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have still filed an appeal for a lower sentence, since the judges gave a more severe sentence than they’d recommended, and Ahok’s lawyers and family said the withdrawal could therefore give the prosecutors space to appeal.
It would not be the first time prosecutors had appealed against a tougher sentence than sought in the indictment, said one of his lawyers, Teguh Samudera.
“We don’t want to intervene with the prosecution. They can go ahead,” said another of the lawyers, I Wayan Sudirta. He added that Ahok’s legal team had requested his relocation from prison to city or house confinement.
Ahok, Jakarta’s first Christian and ethnic Chinese governor since the 1960s, was charged with blasphemy in September 2016 after accusing his political opponents of using Qur’anic verses to stop Muslims from voting for him in his bid for re-election as Jakarta’s governor.
A day after he lost the election to his Muslim rival, Anies Rasiyd Baswedan, prosecutors downgraded the blasphemy charges against him to a one-year suspended jail sentence, but on 9 May the court ruled against this and sent him to prison for two years. The verdict caused widespread condemnation, from protests in the streets of Jakarta to responses from the international community.
The court case developed in the background of Ahok’s re-election bid as governor of Jakarta and although religion was also the dominant feature of the election campaign, there was much more going on, writes Marshall:
“Ahok was opposed by the many politicians who benefit from endemic corruption. He was also contrarily portrayed as a tool of the rich, especially the Chinese-Indonesian businessmen who control much of Indonesia’s economy. Other major political players were funding the radicals. The FPI [Islamic Defenders’ Front] can make a lot of noise, but does not have the capability to organize massive demonstrations. Someone else was paying for those thousands of busses to bring in demonstrators from afar, as well as the neatly printed signs and shirts.”
At the start of his trial in December 2016, Ahok said: “Our founding fathers created the nation as a secular republic, based on the concept of ‘unity in diversity’, but they want to force the implementation of Islamic law. How come? So, I’m happy that history chose me for this position. I am not afraid of losing my position for doing what is right.” He added: “We must really have faith in God according to our religion. I have faith in Isa [“Jesus” in Arabic]. And I have faith about where I belong and where I will go when I die – and that’s why I’m not afraid to lose my life. In all I’ve been through, Jesus has always protected me and provided for all my needs.”
The news of Ahok’s appeal withdrawal came a day after the United Nations called on the Indonesian government to free him and to repeal blasphemy laws which they say undermine religious freedom in the Muslim-majority nation.
“We urge the government to overturn Mr Purnama’s sentence on appeal or to extend to him whatever form of clemency may be available under Indonesian law so that he may be released from prison immediately,” UN experts said in a statement.
They added that Ahok’s sentence was “disappointing” as “instead of speaking out against hate speech by the leaders of the protests, the Indonesian authorities appear to have appeased incitement to religious intolerance and discrimination.”
Please pray for our Christian brothers ans sisters in Indonesia.