Sunday, 19 June 2011

Happy Ruby Anniversary

Congratulations to Mum and Dad! They celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary today – an historic milestone. They have always shown a strong loving commitment to one another, which has endured the test of time and helped them face the many trials that came their way. They have been good parents to me and my brother.

Over the weekend we had a small celebration to mark this occasion. Nithya, Anya and I presented Mum and Dad a special bottle of champagne with a personalised message, as well as a photo cake. My brother, his family, and two of my cousins were also there. Mum made my favourite dish – chicken biryani.

Mum and Dad are very different personalities: Dad is thoughtful, kind and gentle, while Mum is more practical, valiant and bubbly. The important thing is they complement each other well. Marriage is, after all, a partnership, which requires a lot of commitment, understanding, forgiveness and patience. The key elements are love and trust.

We would like to wish them many more years of happy married life together. We are proud of them.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." 1 Cor. 13:4-8

Friday, 17 June 2011

St Faustina's visions of hell, purgatory and heaven

The following passages are taken from the Diary of St. Faustina and they refer to her visions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.

"I saw two roads. One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures. People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves. They reached the end without realizing it. And at the end of the road there was a horrible precipice; that is, the abyss of hell. The souls fell blindly into it; as they walked, so they fell. And their number was so great that it was impossible to count them. And I saw the other road, or rather, a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them. Some fell down upon the rocks, but stood up immediately and went on. At the end of the road there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness and all these souls entered there. At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings" (Diary 153).


"Today, I was led by an Angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw: the first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one’s condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it, a terrible suffering, since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God’s anger; the fifth torture is conditional darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of satan, the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies. These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like. I, sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. I cannot speak about it now; but I have received a command from God to leave it in writing. The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God’s mercy upon them. O my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, then offend You by the least sin." (Diary 741).


"I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames, which were burning them, did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God. I saw Our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory. The souls call Her “The Star of the Sea”. She brings them refreshment. I wanted to talk with them some more, but my Guardian Angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering. [I heard an interior voice which said] ‘My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it. Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls.’” (Diary, 20)


November 27, 1936 - "Today I was in heaven, in spirit, and I saw its inconceivable beauties and the happiness that awaits us after death. I saw how all creatures give ceaseless praise and glory to God. I saw how great is happiness in God, which spreads to all creatures, making them happy; and then all the glory and praise which springs from this happiness returns to its source; and they enter into the depths of God, contemplating the inner life of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom they will never comprehend or fathom. This source of happiness is unchanging in its essence, but it is always new, gushing forth happiness for all creatures. Now I understand Saint Paul, who said, “Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, not has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love him.” And God has given me to understand that there is but one thing that is of infinite value in His eyes, and that is love of God; love, love and once again, love; and nothing can compare with a single act of pure love of God. Oh, with what inconceivable favors God gifts a soul that loves Him sincerely! Oh, how happy is the soul who already here on earth enjoys His special favors! And of such are the little and humble souls. The sight of this great majesty of God, which I came to understand more profoundly and which is worshipped by the heavenly spirits according to their degree of grace and the hierarchies into which they are divided, did not cause my soul to be stricken with terror or fear; no, no, not at all! My soul was filled with peace and love, and the more I come to know the greatness of God, the more joyful I become that He is as He is. And I rejoice immensely in His greatness and am delighted that I am so little because, since I am little, He carries me in His arms and holds me close to His Heart. O my God, how I pity those people who do not believe in eternal life; how I pray for them that a ray of mercy would envelop them too, and that God would clasp them to His fatherly bosom." (Diary 777).

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Syrian bishop says government must crush the uprising

By John Pontifex

The Syrian government must resist the uprising – and has the people's backing in quelling forces seeking "destabilisation and Islamisation" – according to one of the country's most respected Catholic bishops.

In a strongly worded defence of President Bashar al-Assad's response to the protests and instability, Bishop Antoine Audo accused the media including the BBC and Al Jazeera of "unobjective" reporting, unfairly criticising the Syrian regime.

The Jesuit, who is the Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo, went on to warn that if Assad's government was overthrown, it would cause widespread instability, a breakdown of basic services such as electricity, increased poverty and a drive towards Islamisation.

Speaking from Aleppo in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Audo said: "The fanatics speak about freedom and democracy for Syria but this is not their goal.

"They want to divide the Arab countries, control them, seize petrol and sell arms. They seek destabilisation and Islamisation."

"Syria must resist – will resist. 80 percent of the people are behind the government, as are all the Christians."

Bishop Audo warned that if President Assad was ousted, Syria would suffer the problems of Iraq post Saddam Hussein with a widespread breakdown of law and order.

"We do not want to become like Iraq. We don't want insecurity and Islamisation and have the threat of Islamists coming to power."

"Syria has a secular orientation. There is freedom. We have a lot of positive things in our country."

The bishop was speaking after reports today (Monday, 13th June) of a third refugee camp being set up on the border between Turkey and Syria amid no sign of an end to the violence and instability dating back to the end of January.

The Syrian government has been strongly criticised for a hard-line military response to the uprising amid reports that the security forces have killed hundreds of protestors and injured many more.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned Syria's armed retaliation against protestors as "unacceptable".

But the bishop stressed the scale of violence against Assad's regime, saying how more than 100 police were killed within a few days and added that the government had a right to defend itself.

He said: "In some media organisations, such as the BBC and Al Jazeera, there is an orchestration to deform the face of Syria to say the government does not respect human rights and so on."

"The government respects people who respect law and order. Syria has a lot of enemies and the government has to defend itself and the country."

"There is a war of information against Syria. The media reporting is unobjective. We have to defend the truth as Syrians and as Chaldeans."

Stressing how the violence was centred on the country's borders, especially in the north overlooking Turkey, he said that for most people in the Aleppo area, there was relative calm.

But he did warn of increasing poverty, transport and other communications problems and described growing unemployment.

He said: "Generally, life in Aleppo is very normal. Everything is continuing but there is less work and transportation is poor."

In a reference to the country's 1.5 million Christians, he said: "Our situation as Christian faithful is not really any different from other communities. We want peace and security."

"We do not want war and violence and we very much hope that in the next few weeks the situation will be better."

Aid to the Church in Need has worked with Bishop Audo to provide long-standing emergency aid for thousands of Christian refugees arriving in Syria from Iraq.

Source: Aid to the Church in Need

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Syria's religious pluralism at stake

Syria is in turmoil. Inspired by uprisings in other Arab countries, Syrian protestors have taken to the streets and denounced the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Protests have spread to several cities, and it is estimated by the UN that at least 1,100 people have been killed by the security forces.

What is particularly sad about this is that Syria has for long been a beacon of religious pluralism and freedom in a largely intolerant region. Syria has many minorities. Arab Sunnis are the majority but other Muslim sects form a sizeable portion of the population. A further 8-10% of the people are Christian. In recent years many Iraqi Christian refugees have fled to Syria in the wake of bloody persecution in their homeland.

The government and security forces are dominated by the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam. This is largely a legacy of French colonial rule. In order to keep Sunni nationalism in check the French co-opted the services of the Alawite community, promoting them to high positions in government and the military. The Alawites went from being a despised downtrodden minority to rulers of their country – a fact deeply despised by the Sunni majority.

Although the Assad regime is authoritarian it has been good for the Christians and other minorities. The regime has kept in check the influence of militant Islamists. Christians are able to worship and practice their faith without much interference, although evangelisation among Muslims is strongly discouraged. A return to Sunni majority rule could lead to their violent suppression and, in the worst case, a sectarian bloodbath similar to that in Iraq. This is why many Christians in Syria have largely stayed away from protests. They are afraid of what may replace the secular Baathist regime.

In a letter to Western leaders, the Syria-based head of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, Patriarch Gregorios III, appealed for them to "ask the heads of state of Arab countries to work for real development... But don't encourage revolutions". He said:
“The situation has deteriorated into organised crime, robbery, fear, terror being spread, rumours of threats to churches... Fundamentalist groups are threatening citizens and wanting to create ‘Islamic Emirates'... Christians especially are very fragile in the face of crises and bloody revolutions! Christians will be the first victims of these revolutions, especially in Syria. A new wave of emigration will follow immediately.”
Thus far external powers have not called for regime change like they have in Libya. This is because by and large the main players – Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and America – prefer to see Assad remain in power than face the more destabilising consequences of regime change in a highly sensitive area. It is true that Syria has provided some support for terrorist groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas but, as Reva Bhalla of STRATFOR says, regime change could potentially lead to greater support for such groups:
“It is not a coincidence that Israel, with which Syria shares a strong and mutual antipathy, has been largely silent over the Syrian unrest. Already unnerved by what may be in store for Egypt’s political future, Israel has a deep fear of the unknown regarding the Syrians. How, for example, would a conservative Sunni government in Damascus conduct its foreign policy? The real virtue of the Syrian regime lies in its predictability: The al Assad government, highly conscious of its military inferiority to Israel, is far more interested in maintaining its hegemony in Lebanon than in picking fights with Israel. While the al Assad government is a significant patron to Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, among other groups it manages within its Islamist militant supply chain, its support for such groups is also to some extent negotiable, as illustrated most recently by the fruits of Turkey’s negotiations with Damascus in containing Palestinian militant activity and in Syria’s ongoing, albeit strained, negotiations with Saudi Arabia over keeping Hezbollah in check. Israel’s view of Syria is a classic example of the benefits of dealing with the devil you do know rather than the devil you don’t.”
The Assad regime is certainly coming under increasing strain, but for the time being it is holding together. Considering that Alawites were once second-class citizens less than a century ago, there is a deep-seated fear of a reversal of Alawite power. For that reason the Alawites are sticking together.

Only time will tell of course what will happen in Syria. My wife’s best friend is a Christian lady from Syria. She never fails to impress us with her strong religious faith and good Christian values. She is understandably worried about the safety of her family members and the fate of her homeland. Syria is a beautiful country steeped in history where the ruins of Crusader castles and citadels still dot the landscape. It would be a tragedy if the religious pluralism that has existed there for many years descends into sectarian violence. Please pray that this doesn’t happen and that all communities in Syria continue to live peacefully together.

Friday, 3 June 2011

India's unwanted girls

India’s 2011 census shows a worrying trend in the number of girls under the age of 6. There are now 914 girls under the age of 6 to every 1,000 boys. This is worse than the figure ten years ago when the ratio was 927 to 1,000. The picture is varied across the country but the siutation in the north generally worse than in the south. Haryana is at the bottom with a ratio of 830 to 1,0000 followed by Punjab with 846 to 1000.

There are many reasons to explain this trend including female infanticide, abuse and neglect of girl children, but the main reason is sex selective abortions. A study in the British medical journal, The Lancet, estimates that up to 12.1 million girls were aborted in India over the last three decades. This happened despite a 1996 law banning the use of ultrasound screening or other testing for the sex of the unborn child.

Researchers found that wealthier or more educated women were more likely to abort girls because they could afford to pay for sex tests and abortions. They also found that families who already had one girl were more likely to abort a second child if they knew the unborn child was female. Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, said the findings were “worrisome and threatening” because “we always believed when people are rich and educated they will be more socially aware but that is not the case.”

Cultural prejudice

The problem is not confined to Indians in India. Journalist and author Lady Kishwar Desai last year pointed to statistics from the University of Oxford that showed almost 100 baby girls were “disappearing” from British Indian families every year.

The statistics clearly point to a significant cultural preference among Indians for baby boys. Why is this the case? The main reason is dowry. Although outlawed by the Indian government in 1961 the practice remains rampant, affecting all religious communities, rich and poor alike. There are other reasons for having boys too: they are bread winners; they are expected to look after their parents in old age; they often inherit their parents’ property; they carry forward their parents’ family name; and in the case of Hindus, they are allowed to light their parents’ funeral pyres.

Lady Desai, who was born in Amabala in Northern India, said: “Jewellery, cash, cars, even houses – the value of the dowry an Indian girl’s family must pay to the family of her future husband can run to tens of thousands of pounds.”

“Marrying off one daughter can be expensive, but two, three… that can be ruinous”, she said.

She said that estimates varied as to how many Indian women are now ‘missing’ but “Female foeticide, gendercide – call it what you will – it’s a terrible and chilling statistic”. It is certainly is.

Worsening trend

Unless the deep cultural prejudice against having baby girls is dealt with I do not think the situation is likely to improve. We will inevitably see more and more female foetuses being aborted each year in India. Not only is this the wilful execution of unborn children but it is an affront to the value of a girl’s life. I have to agree with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who called this a “national shame”. Government laws by themselves will not solve the problem as they have thus far proved ineffective in dealing with the issue. What really needs to happen is social transformation, but the question is: is that really possible?