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Lack of rain has Italians worried

(Vatican Radio) There is serious concern in Italy as soaring temperatures and a lack of rain deplete vital water sources which could lead to water rationing for Romans.

Listen to this report: 

Walk along the cobbled streets of Rome and you’re sure to find a fountain which supplies fresh drinking water to Romans and tourists alike. These fountains don’t have taps to stem the flow and now risk being turned off as searing heat and a lack of rain dry up vital water sources.

Meteorologists say that Italy had one of its driest springs in 60 years and rainfalls in some parts of the country have been 80 per cent below normal. Rome had just 26 days of rain in the first six months of this year.

It’s a disaster for agriculture in the country which has so far suffered 2 billion euro worth of damage. And if that weren’t enough, Italy is also grappling with a series of forest fires which also need gallons of water in order to be brought under control.

The lack of water in Rome and beyond has lawmakers extremely worried. The governor of the Lazio region, Nicola Zingaretti, which includes the  Eternal City, spoke of the seriousness of the situation.

He said he has ordered no more water to be drawn from Lake Bracciano, which supplies some parts of the Italian capital, because the decreasing water levels pose a clear and present danger to the lakes’ aquatic life.

As the soaring temperatures continue and the country prays for rain, Romans could well see water rationing as early as this week.



EU condemns US Congress new sanctions against Russia

(Vatican Radio) The European Union has condemned moves by the U.S. Congress to step up sanctions on Russia without consulting the EU and other allies amid concerns it could impact energy supplies and have other negative economic consequences for Europe. 

Its statement came after Democrats and Republicans in Congress reached a deal that could see new legislation pass to tighten sanctions against Russia's over its alleged meddling in the recent U.S. presidential elections.   

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos:

The European Commission, the EU's executive, warned the U.S. Congress that its proposed punitive measures against Russia would have what it called "wide and indiscriminate" "unintended consequences". Brussels is especially concerned about the impact new US sanctions will have on the block's efforts to diversify energy sources. 

Germany has already said it could retaliate if the United States moves to sanction firms involved with building a new Baltic pipeline for Russian gas.

European Union officials fear a German-U.S. row over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, built by Russia's state-owned company Gazprom, could make it difficult to reach an EU consensus over the project.

The Commission's statement came while leaders of both parties of the United States Congress agreed on a law allowing fresh sanctions to punish Russia for alleged election meddling.


It would also sharply limit U.S. President Donald Trump's ability to lift any sanctions against Russia. Trump has previously said he needs diplomatic leeway with the Kremlin.

But under the proposed bill, Trump must submit to Congress a report on proposed actions that would "significantly alter" U.S. foreign policy in connection with Russia, including easing sanctions or returning diplomatic properties in Maryland and New York that former President Barack Obama ordered vacated in December.

The House is set to vote on Tuesday on a package of bills on sanctions covering Russia as well as Iran and North Korea. President Trump's time in office has been overshadowed by claims that Russia tried to influence last year's US election.

Moscow denies wrongdoing, but several U.S. investigations are looking into whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials. Analysts say that the bipartisan agreement between Democrats and Republicans indicates a determination in Congress to maintain a firm line against Russia, whatever President Trump's view.
However, the European Commission is urging Washington to keep coordinating its plans with the EU and other partners in the G7 group of highly industrialized democracies at a time when Brussels is already worried about Trump's "America First" policies. 

Greek island of Kos reeling after quake

(Vatican Radio) A powerful earthquake shook holiday resorts in Greece and Turkey in the night between Thursday and Friday, injuring nearly 500 people and leaving at least two tourists dead on the Greek island of Kos.

Franciscan Fr. Luke Gregory is the parish priest of the Greek islands of Kos and Rhodes.

He spoke to Philippa Hitchen tabout the situation in Kos and how he is helping residents and tourists there…

DRC: Kivu residents protest abduction of priests with silence

(Vatican Radio) Residents of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo have staged a week-long silent protest intended to send a message to the kidnappers of two Catholic priests kidnapped Sunday 16 July from a parish of Bunyuka. Activity in the area came to a complete standstill as residents shunned farms and public spaces. Silence marked entire villages. It was the least they could do in the face of all manner of gunmen.

Bishop Sikuli Paluku Melchisédech of Butembo-Beni, who confirmed the silent protest to Vatican Radio said that Fathers Charles Kipasa and Jean-Pierre Akilimali, parish priest and assistant respectively, were abducted on the night of Sunday 16 July from their parish house of Marie Reine des Anges de Bunyuka by “men in uniform.”

“It is with great sadness that we inform you that Fathers Charles Kipasa and Jean-Pierre Akilimali, respectively parish priest and vicar of Marie Reine des Anges de Bunyuka were abducted on Sunday around 9 pm by a group of ‘men in uniform,’” Bishop  Melchisédech said in a statement.

The kidnap was accompanied by the looting of two parish vehicles, two motorcycles and several goods of the parish. The vehicles were later found dumped in the forest along the Karuruma road. The motorcycles are thought to have been used to spirit away the two priests.

Soon after the abduction of Fathers Kipasa and Akilimali, some parishioners rang the Church bell, and the faithful who rushed to the parish house started a silent protest against extreme insecurity in the area. All of last week since the abduction, both Catholics and ordinary residents simply stayed at home and did not go to their fields.

Catholic Bishops under DRC’s Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO) have appealed for the immediate release of the priests. Bishop Melchisédech of Butembo-Beni urged the faithful to persevere in prayer for peace and security.

 “We strongly condemn this kidnapping of priests and ask that they be released immediately without delay so that they can fulfil their pastoral mission. We ask all the faithful of the diocese and people of good will to remain vigilant and to persevere in prayer for the peace and security of all in our Province of North Kivu,” said Bishop Melchisédech.

According to the local publication, BeniLubero Online, which documents in very graphic terms, atrocities in the area, the abduction of the priests recalls another case of the kind that occurred in October 2012 in Mbau.  Three Assumptionist Catholic priests abducted at the time have never been found.

Founder of the Online publication, BeniLubero Online, Fr. Vincent Machozi was killed in Bukavu by gunmen in March 2016. In December 2016, a Franciscan religious sister, Sr. Marie-Claire Kahambu of South Kivu was stabbed several times and killed, during the day, as she worked in her office at a girls’ training centre.

It is not just priests and the religious that are victims of the violence in Congo’s Kivu area. The local civilian population bears the brunt of most of the violence as BeniLubero attests. Workers of Faith Based and humanitarian organisations such as Caritas have also not been spared.  

(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)

Zanzibar bishop calls for more attention to be given to interreligious dialogue and solidarity

Bishop Augustine Shao of Zanzibar, says he wants issues relating to interreligious dialogue and solidarity to be empahsised in the next Plenary Assembly of the regional grouping of bishops’ conferences of eastern Africa, AMECEA.

In an interview with AMECEA News Online, the bishop said coming from a diocese where Islam is the main religion, he feels disappointed that the issue of interreligious dialogue has not been given the emphasis it deserves, adding that, the issue of solidarity with the dioceses and countries in the region where Catholic Christians are in a minority also needs to be looked at.

The bishop proposed that the Commission on Interreligious Dialogue and Solidarity be one of the key issues to be considered for deliberations during the 19th Plenary Assembly of AMECEA to be held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa in July 2018.

“Previously there was strong Pastoral care to the Nomadic Communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, this ensured that people who move from one area to the other were well taken care of in terms of their pastoral needs and something needs to be done to reawaken it”, Bishop Shao, a member of the Spiritan Missionaries said.

He observed that there is infiltration of activities of other religions, especially Islam in the most Catholic dominated areas and such activities are often geared towards “luring Catholics to abandon their faith," he said.

According to Bishop Shao, the AMECEA Commission for Solidarity needs to be in the forefront to reach out to the dioceses and countries in the region facing persecution.

The diocese of Zanzibar faced a series of attacks between 2012 and 2013 from Islamic fundamentalists. The diocese comprises of the Islands of Unguja and Pemba and many other small Islets. It has an area of 2,352 square kilometers, with a total population of 1,420,000, based on 2012 National Census. The number of baptized Catholics is 10,152.

You can read below Pamela Adinda’s full article 

ZANZIBAR: Interreligious Dialogue and Solidarity Commission Needs to be Emphasised during the forthcoming AMECEA Plenary Assembly, says Catholic Bishop of Zanzibar

By Pamela Adinda, AMECEA Online News

Zanzibar Bishop Rt. Rev. Augustine Ndeliakyama Shao, C.S.Sp.  has proposed Interreligious Dialogue and Solidarity Commission as key issues to be considered for deliberations during the forthcoming 19th AMECEA Plenary Assembly in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in July 2018.

Coming from a diocese where Islam is the main Religion with just a handful of Catholic population that barely make 1%, Bishop Shao feels disappointed that the issue of Interreligious Dialogue has not been given the emphasis it deserves adding that, the issue of solidarity with the dioceses and countries where Catholic Christians are the minority also needs to be looked at to strengthen the activities of the Commission of Solidarity at AMECEA

“Previously there was strong Pastoral care to the Nomadic Communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, this ensured that people who move from one area to the other were well taken care of in terms of their pastoral needs and something needs to be done to reawaken it.” Bishop Shao said in an interview with AMECEA Online News in Zanzibar.

He observed that there is infiltration of activities of other Religion in the most dominated Catholic areas and such activities are often geared towards luring Catholics to abandon their faith.

“You can say that as Bishops we are not aware of what is happening; but the reality of the amount of land being bought by Muslims for the erection of Mosques is just alarming, the reality of how other denominations are spreading as whirlwind sweeping along our Catholic faithful is alarming. I might be wrong in that but if you consider the universal trend on how the Muslims are moving very fast even to predominant areas of Christians then there is a reason for us to do something.”

Bishop Shao mentioned his birthplace in Kilimanjaro Rombo where there was no single mosque but now the situation is totally different as numerous mosques have been built.

“So one may wonder that what are the priests doing, what are the Bishops saying, I am not saying that other religions should not flourish in our turfs, but it is a caution that we should strengthen our Christians in their faith through deeper evangelization.” Bishop Shao said adding that it is high time AMECEA considered serious deliberation on interreligious dialogue to come up with resolutions that can form the basis of tackling the infiltrations.

“Let us not only do the beautiful paper works, we come from these international meetings and we discuss a lot of important issues, come up with beautiful ideas, but at the end of the day, the implementation of those ideas remain the prerogatives of the individual bishops. Is he ready to implement it, is he ready to execute it? That is my big concern. He said

Equally important is the issue of solidarity, according to Bishop Shao, the AMECEA Commission for Solidarity needs to be in the forefront to reach out to the dioceses and countries facing persecution. He explained that when his diocese faced the atrocities from the Muslims in 2012-2013, he had 15 priests at that time and they were scared because of the propaganda that the Islamic fundamentalists were looking for priests and religious sisters to assassinate and the priests suggested to him to consider possibility of doing exchange with other dioceses.

“They said that we who have been working in Zanzibar for 20 years, 15years, 12 years can do some exchange with dioceses in Tanzania Mainland in order to debrief. I said my brothers, this has come at a wrong time, at this time everybody is scared of Zanzibar and if I bring this idea to the conference it will not be taken because the bishops are not going to force their priests to come to Zanzibar. Nobody will want to come here so let us persevere.” He explained saying that deep inside he expected more solidarity and so were his priests.

Archbishop Brislin calls for unity in diversity

(Vatican Radio) At the Triennial Southern Africa Catholic Leaders’ Joint Witness Meeting 2017 Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town who is also President of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) emphasised the importance of unity in diversity in proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord.

He said that diversity and richness of many charisms are the source of success in spreading the Good News.

Joint Witness is a meeting of the Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life (LCCL) and the Bishops of Southern Africa Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC). The meeting normally takes place once in every three years.  It is a platform whereby the two conferences discuss issues affecting the local Church and the society at large.

The problems of Human Trafficking, Migrants and Refugees were some the topics that topped the agenda of the discussions during the Joint Witness Meeting 2017.

(Below is the homily)


The Gospel of today’s Mass recalls the mission of proclamation of God’s Kingdom given initially to the Apostles, but in fact to all through baptism, and which unites us in a common cause, “And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand”.

Evangelization, as we know, is integral to the very meaning of what it means to be Church. In the words of St Paul, “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken’. Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak” (2 Cor 4:13).

Evangelization is achieved through three constitutive elements identified by Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, namely proclamation of the Gospel and witness to Christ, celebrating the sacraments and humble service (cf. Deus Caritas est, 25a). Together we, in the diversity and richness of many charisms, spread the Good News.

The first Reading of today’s Mass holds many important lessons for this task. We hear part of the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers and yet became the right hand man of Pharaoh. Through interpreting Pharaoh’s dream he knew that years of abundance would be followed by years of famine. He took the necessary measures to store food and was able to feed the nations. We, as leadership of the Church in Southern Africa, must always have the hope that God will transform what we perceive to be adversity into a blessing.

Joseph was sold into slavery but through that evil a great good was achieved. We may face many hardships, such as a shortage of resources and vocations, but let us never lose sight of God’s plan which brings blessings. Like Joseph, we too must read the signs of the times. There is a type of famine that grips the earth, the famine of those who hunger for and seek truth and meaning. We have the stored resources, the treasures, with which we can nourish others. This we do with the same generosity of Joseph and without holding back. Just as many nations went to Egypt for food, so we gather together different nations, cultures and languages into the unity of the one family of God.

But the task of evangelization is inseparable from our own discipleship. Pope Francis made the point, “When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we proclaim Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly. We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, all of this, but we are not disciples of the Lord”.

Discipleship means carrying our own cross and following Christ. Evangelization is not simply the proclamation of the Gospel by going out and heralding the Good News, as important as that is. There is another pathway that must also be followed. In the words of Pope Francis, it is “the inner journey, the path within, the path of the disciple who seeks the Lord every day, through prayer, in meditation.” These are not separate pathways; they are mutually dependent on each other. Prayer, meditation, the celebration of Sacraments are integral to proclamation and give credibility to it, just as proclamation ensures sincerity in prayer and worship. For this reason all our activity must be founded on an ever-deepening encounter with Christ through Word, Sacrament and prayer. The inner-spiritual life is essential for the mission, just as the mission strengthens and feeds our spiritual life.

The urgency expressed by successive Popes for what has been termed the “new evangelization” means that there is also an urgency for the renewal of our faith expressed in prayer and spiritual life. It is accurate, I think, to say that the crisis facing the Church is not fundamentally a crisis of vocations, of lack of trust, or people leaving the Church, or the supposed irrelevance of the Church to young people. It is a crisis of faith, a crisis of where our hearts lie.

The crisis of faith is, perhaps, not so much a loss of faith as such, but a faith that is being taken for granted, not nurtured or challenged – a complacency about our spiritual life and our call to discipleship. Liturgy becomes routine, our prayer superficial and the practice of faith in action mundane and without passion. A weariness has set in, a “saltlessness”. It can only be changed by seeking with fresh eyes the message of Christ and a return to the Gospel, where the starting point is a desire to know Christ more deeply with a commitment to obedience, especially to the commandment of love of God and neighbor.

The Gospel of Jesus both disturbed and fascinated many, including the commandment to love. We can become so wrapped up in ourselves and content that we do love God and, after all, we wish our neighbor no harm, that we no longer allow the Gospel to disturb us and to put ourselves at risk. The famous quote from Pope Francis recalls us from our comfort: “it is true that going out on to the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one”.

Jesus, the incarnation of God, shakes us into the realization that we may be the greatest intellectual of all time, a bishop or religious, an ordinary person, but we are not his disciples unless we are able to express the same gentleness, care and compassion to the least of his brothers and sisters. It was in touching the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion that St Thomas recognized the divinity of Christ and made his profound profession of faith “My Lord and my God”.

It is in the wounded-ness of those around us that we must see the face of Christ - and respond. Pope Francis has been clear that it is through concrete acts of mercy that we serve God. “If a disciple is not journeying to serve, there’s no reason for the journey. If his life is not for service, there is no point in living the Christian life”. Touching Jesus’ wounds transformed St Thomas, just as those who were touched by Christ were transformed. Our kerygma and our witness is not primarily through words – it is through those concrete and personal actions that acknowledge and affirm the dignity and value of the other.

In the words of Blessed Oscar Romero, “The transcendence that the church preaches is not alienation; it is not going to heaven to think about eternal life and forget about the problems on earth. It’s a transcendence from the human heart. It is entering into the reality of a child, of the poor, of those wearing rags, of the sick, of a hovel, of a shack. It is going to share with them. And from the very heart of misery, of this situation, to transcend it, to elevate it, to promote it, and to say to them, ‘You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized.’ It is to say exactly the opposite, ‘You are valuable.’” Part of the “crisis of faith” is a weakening of this sense of communion with others, of being in solidarity. It is a loss of the sense of caring for those when trouble strikes. It is a loss of a personal approach – a certain anonymity has set in. The warmth of a loving community has grown chilly.

As many people search for meaning and a sense of purpose, we rely on the tenets of our faith. The words “it is in giving that we receive, in loving that we are loved”, remain as true as ever. It is the understanding that in order to gain life we must lose it; it is through sacrifice and humble service that we find purpose and meaning to life, always remembering that this journey can never be separated from our inner spiritual journey.

For us, as leaders of the Church in Southern Africa it must be our continual recommitment to harness our diversity and the multitude of charisms and, in unity, to strive to achieve the common task of spreading the Gospel, through proclamation and witness, Sacraments and service. It is to return to those things that have always stood Christians throughout the ages in good stead. To shake off the weariness that clings so easily, to abandon the insidious idols that creep in so silently and that distract us and drain us of energy. It is Christ and his Gospel that we serve and no other. Pope Francis points us to the road ahead: “We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, and spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace”.

These are the challenges that lie before us, the tasks that we must achieve together, always faithful to our vocation and mission. We gather for this triennial meeting to ensure that we are united, diverse in charism, yet one in our commitment to continue the spread of the Gospel and to proclaim the love and joy of the Good News. May God bless us and guide during our deliberations.

(Archbishop Stephen Brislin; Archbishop of Cape Town and President of SACBC)


Pope at Angelus: 'the line between good and evil runs through the heart of each of us'

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday reminded the faithful of God’s infinite patience and of the fact that  “we are all sinners”.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

Addressing those gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus, the Pope reflected on the Gospel of the day remarking on the fact that “the boundary between good and evil runs through the heart of each of us”. 

The reading in question tells of how wheat and weeds were sown in the same field illustrating, the Pope said; “the problem of evil in the world” and emphasizing the Lord’s patience.
God, he said, sows good seed while Satan sows weeds. In the parable the householder’s slaves would like to pull the weeds out, but the master objects saying the wheat might be uprooted along with the weeds and he invites them to let them grow together until harvest.

“With this image - the Pope explained - Jesus tells us that in this world good and evil are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them and to extinguish all evil. Only God can do this, and he will do it in the Last Judgment. 

So, Francis continued, in all of its ambiguity and complexity the situation represents the reality of Christian freedom in which we are called to exercise the difficult discernment between good and evil.

Thus Pope Francis exhorted the faithful to combine two seemingly contradictory attitudes: choice and patience: “the choice to be good wheat” distancing oneself from the seductions of evil; while “patience” – he said - means preferring to be part of a Church that “is not afraid of getting its hands dirty” by being close to its soiled children, rather than of a righteous Church that expresses judgement before time.       

Pope Francis continued his catechesis inviting us to recognize that we are all sinners and reminding us that good and evil cannot be boxed into defined areas or groups of people, because the “line between good and evil runs through the heart of every person”.

And reminding those present that with his Resurrection Jesus has freed us from the slavery of sin and given us the grace to walk a new life, and that with Baptism he also gave us the sacrament of Reconciliation because we always need to be forgiven our sins, the Pope concluded exhorting us to see not only the bad and the evil, but also the good and the beautiful in the world that surrounds us trusting always in God’s promise of redemption.

After praying the Angelus with those present in the Square, Pope Francis made a hearfelt appeal for moderation and dialogue follwoing the flare of violence in Jerusalem. 



Angelus: Pope appeals for dialogue after Jerusalem violence

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has appealed for moderation and dialogue after a surge of violence and killings over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Addressing the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus, the Pope said he is following “with trepidation the grave tensions and violence of the last days in Jerusalem.”

Last week Arab gunmen, shooting from the site – which is Holy to Jews and to Muslims -  killed two Israeli policemen sparking a wave of violence in which three Palestinians were killed in street clashes and a Palestinian fatally stabbed three members of an Israeli family.

“I feel the need to express a heartfelt appeal for moderation and dialogue” Francis said and he invited all faithful to join him in prayer so that the Lord may inspire all sides to come together with proposals for reconciliation and peace. 

Tensions over the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have surged in the past couple of days following the installation by Israel of metal detectors after two Israeli policemen were killed near there earlier this month.

The measures angered the Palestinians, who accuse Israel of trying to take control over a sacred place.

Israel now says it is willing to consider alternatives to the controversial metal detectors it installed and has called on the Muslim world to put forward other suggestions.


Pope Francis donates €25 thousand to ease East Africa famine

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has donated €25 thousand to the efforts of the United NationsFood and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, in support of people facing famine and food insecurity in East Africa.

The Holy Father had pledged personal assistance in a message to FAO's Conference on 3 July 2017, in which he said he was "inspired also by the desire to encourage Governments".

Click below to hear our report

In February of this year, famine was declared in parts of South Sudan (where civil strife has largely interrupted daily life). While the situation has eased after a significant scaling up in the humanitarian response, some 6 million people in the country are still struggling to find enough food every day.

Meanwhile, there are an estimated 16 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in five other East African countries: Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. That figure represents an increase of about 30 percent since late 2016.

Below, please find the official statement regarding the donation


Pope Francis donates to FAO to assist drought and conflict-stricken populations in East Africa

Gesture aims to encourage governments to support FAO's emergency response

21 July 2017, Rome - In an unprecedented move, Pope Francis has symbolically donated €25,000 to FAO's efforts supporting people facing food insecurity and famine in East Africa.

Pope Francis said the funds are "a symbolic contribution to an FAO programme that provides seeds to rural families in areas affected by the combined effects of conflicts and drought."

The pontiff's remarks were contained in a letter written to FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva by Monsignor Fernando Chica Arellano, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN food agencies in Rome.

Pope Francis' gesture stemmed from a pledge he made in a message to FAO's Conference on 3 July 2017 and was "inspired also by the desire to encourage Governments," Monsignor Chica wrote in the letter.

Famine was declared in parts of South Sudan in February and while the situation has eased after a significant scaling up in the humanitarian response, some 6 million people in the country are still struggling to find enough food every day.

Meanwhile the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in five other East African countries - Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda - is currently estimated at about 16 million, which marks an increase of about 30 percent since late 2016.

Pope Francis, who has made solidarity a major theme of his pontificate, is set to visit FAO's headquarters on 16 October to mark World Food Day. This year the event is being held under the slogan: "Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development".

Christians welcome India's new president with caution

India’s Catholic bishops have welcomed India's new president, hoping he will be able to foster peace, development and justice for all in his largely ceremonial role.  Ram Nath Kovind, a candidate of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led coalition of prime minister Narendra Modi was declared India’s 14th president on July 20.  The Indian Parliament and state ‎legislatures voted on July 17, the results of which were declared on Thursday.  The 71-year old low-caste Dalit won with an overwhelming majority over Meira Kumar, also a Dalit candidate, backed ‎by the opposition Congress party.‎

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) offers its "prayers for his good health, wisdom and strength" so he might lead the country "toward peace, development and justice for all peoples," said CBCI Secretary General Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas in a statement.  The bishops pray that "God may assist" Kovind to lead the country as "per the oath of office," and that he will "devote himself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of India," the statement said.  The bishops' call to Kovind to uphold the constitution conveys the general air of apprehension from religious minorities that the appointment will present little resistance to the pro-Hindu BJP and their parliamentary majority.

Kovind is a former governor of the eastern state of Bihar and a longtime ‎associate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Corps, an Indian right-wing ‎Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organization that has been accused of stoking religious hatred ‎against minorities.  The group is the ideological parent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu ‎nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which controls enough seats in federal and state legislatures to push ‎its favoured presidential candidate.  Modi himself was associated early in his career with the RSS, which has long ‎propagated a vision of India that promotes the primacy of the country's majority Hindus.‎

Samuel Jaykumar of the National Council of Churches in India also echoed the feelings of the Catholic bishops.  The told UCANEWS he hopes “the new president follows the constitution and retains its values." 

The presidential election was held amid reports of protests and campaigns against growing intolerance and violence based on religion. Hindu vigilante groups and extremists are accused of attacking religious minorities in the name of protecting the cow, considered holy Hindus, and preventing the consumption of beef.

Constitutionally, India is secular nation that applies equal respect to all religions. However, hard-line Hindu groups, under the political patronage of the BJP, have been working to create a nation of Hindu hegemony. Some leaders have called for amendments in the constitution to alter the secular character of the nation.

Kovind, India’s second Dalit president after K.R. Narayan, had been earlier embroiled in a controversy when, as a BJP leader in 2010, he said "Islam and Christianity are alien to India."  He further suggested people from these religions should not be given social benefits or quotas for government jobs and educational institutions, even if they come from a poor socio-economic backgrounds.

Vijayesh Lal, executive director of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, told UCANEWS he hopes the "new president, just as the previous president, will act above party politics."

The Indian head of state is bound by the advice of the Cabinet led by the prime minister, who is the ‎chief executive.  Kovind is taking over from Pranab Mukherjee whose term expires on July 24.  The new president will be sworn in on ‎ July 25.  (Source UCANEWS)