SEPTEMBER 14, 2008, Vol 58, No 19

MACAU – Vietnamese Catholics have rallied outside a Hanoi police station in an escalating row over disputed church land taken over by the communist state half a century ago, police and a priest said Aug 31.

Police detained three parishioners after at least 100 Catholics gathered outside the police station the night of Aug 8 to call for the release of several other followers who had been arrested earlier in the day.

Hanoi’s police chief dismissed claims by the Thai Ha Redemptorist parish that riot police had charged the peaceful crowd and beaten them using batons, wounding at least three.

The disturbance came amid a long-simmering dispute in which Catholics have sought to reclaim an inner-city property that came under communist state control in the years after North Vietnam’s 1954 victory against the French.

Authorities started legal proceedings against the Dong Da district parish, where priest Father Vu Khoi Phung has led hundreds of Catholics in prayer vigils on a disputed plot of land and erected an altar.

Tensions rose Aug 8 after police arrested three parishioners for damaging property and disturbing public order and took them back to the local police headquarters, said Hanoi police chief General Nguyen Duc Nhanh.

"Around 100 parishioners, including five to six priests, from Thai Ha parish gathered before the headquarters of Dong Da district police, creating pressure, demanding the release of the accused," he said.

One of the priests, Father Nguyen Van Peter Khai – who put the total number of Catholics arrested since Thursday at eight – told AFP that police had attacked the Catholics as they sat on the street for a peaceful vigil.

"We were in the street on Thai Ha street and the police repressed the Christians using electric shocks," said Khai. "A lot of people were beaten very hard by police."

He showed photographs of two women bleeding from head wounds who he said were victims of the police baton-charge.

When asked about the claim, Nhanh only said "We never use supporting instruments to beat those who do not violate the law. These instruments are only used when police are attacked."

He also stressed that the police investigation was ongoing, saying "all violators should be investigated and punished".

Vietnam, a unified communist country since the war ended in 1975, has Southeast Asia’s largest Catholic community after the Philippines – at least six million out of a population of 86 million.

All religion remains under state control, but Hanoi’s relations with the Catholic church had improved for years, leading to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung making a landmark visit to the Vatican in 2007.

However, around Christmas last year Catholics started months of mass rallies at several churches, demanding the return of church land confiscated during the 1950s land reform era.

The Hanoi People’s Committee at Friday Aug 8 press conference laid out their case, with video recordings that showed Catholics breaking a wall to the dispute site, holding mass and erecting religious icons.

Officials called the acts illegal and said Vietnam no longer entertained land claims related to seizures made in the early years of North Vietnam.

They also said Thai Ha parish had donated the land to the state in 1961.

The Catholics say the land was stolen and have vowed more prayer vigils. n

macau dailytimes

THE SIKH COMMUNITY will be celebrating the 300th Gurgaddi Day on Oct 20, 2008 to mark the 300th anniversary of the day the 10th Sikh Guru ordered the Sikhs to accept Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (Sikh Holy Scriptures) as their Eternal Living Guru. It marked the transition from a "Bodily Guru" (as had been the case of the first 10 Sikh Gurus) to an "Eternal Guru" with no bodily form.

The Singapore Sikh Community has lined up a series of events to mark this grand occasion.

One of the most significant events will be a 300th Gurgaddi Day Harmony Parade which will include a float procession around Singapore island on Oct 18-19 covering all the seven Sikh temples plus other non Sikh places of worship and general places of interest.

The key objectives of the harmony parade are to promote racial harmony, create greater awareness of Sikhism and increase awareness of the other religions among the Sikhs.

The harmony parade will be visiting Church of the Holy Trinity from 2.00 to 3.00pm on Sunday Oct 19. About 100-150 Sikhs will visit the church at that time.

 

ABOUT 200 PEOPLE attended a talk titled "Love of God, Love of my Taoist Neighbour" by Father Henry Siew at Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Jul 29. The talk was aided by computer visuals which included pictures of deities.

According to Father Siew, there are various sources of Taoist thoughts: philosophical writings of Taoist masters like Laozi and Zhuangzi; esoteric and mystical writings of Taoist masters; popular beliefs in spirits and ghosts which were also reflected in Confucian writings; integration of Buddhist and Confucian ideologies; collection and final composition of Taoist writings; and founding fathers.

No doubt Taoist beliefs spring from many roots, but there are some key concepts. The Taoists have a desire for divine assistance, good health, healing, and immortality, for expiation of sin and for prosperity, justice, status and feminine involvement.

Such desires can be fulfilled by inner purification, which means to be united with Dao (the way) by means of meditation, explained Father Siew. Inner actualization, which is the self cultivation of Qi, enables an individual to not only reach his inner Qi, but also to absorb the Qi from nature. Dieting, breathing exercises (like taiji), paper charms, rites, medication and artistic expressions are also spiritual methods to attaining peace and fulfilling hopes.

Among the interesting facts shared by Father Siew is the Taoist belief that ghosts (gui) are the spirits of ancestors. They also believe in karma, i.e. "You get what you deserve." The deeds of ancestors will also affect the fate of their descendents. Funeral rites help the deceased to find rest in the world of immortality and include these elements: invitation, cleansing, bridging, thanksgiving and installation.

Taoist deities rule the heavens and netherworlds and can be classified according to rank. For example, the four supreme heavenly kings who watch over heavens include the Jade Emperor. Deities also can be of the heavens, earth (such as the earth god or ‘Tu Di Gong’) or water. Deities can also be from different "departments". These "departments" are further divided into the kitchen, shrine, money and natural bodies like the stars, just to name a few. In fact, each constellation is assigned a deity.

Taoists are staunch believers in nature and how the natural environment behaves is good proof of the deities’ works and sometimes also determines the moods of the gods. Their holy places include nothing less than natural lands of tranquillity, mountains and caves of immortals like the Wu Dang Mountain and temples.

Besides supernatural beings, Taoists also have human heroes like their ancestors. Ancestral worship is an essential part of every Taoist life on earth. Warring heroes, historical personalities of Taoist virtues turned immortals and outstanding characters of novels are also deeply respected by Taoists.

During the question-and-answer segment, one Catholic participant brought up the issue of having to help his Taoist mother prepare paper money to be burnt to ancestors. "Is that right?" he asked.

Father Siew responded, "Helping your mother shows filial piety for her just like how she is showing filial piety to her ancestors." Virtues are what we learn from our Taoist neighbours. Practices may vary but the fundamental reasons for them are always just and of right stand.

- By Melissa Leong

ON JUL 22, IJ Sister Maria Lau gave a talk on Islam at Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour to cultivate interest among Catholics in the Islamic community and to enhance Catholics’ understanding of Islam. About 120 people attended.

Sister Maria explained that in spite of the centuries of hostilities between Christians and Muslims, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council had urged all to "forget the past and to strive sincerely for mutual understanding".

She explained that Islam and Catholicism shared a common root, from Abraham, and Jesus was an important figure in both religions. To Catholics, Jesus is God. To Muslims, he is one of the prophets sent by Allah. Both religions are monotheistic, worshipping one God and are "people of the book".

In Islam, there are five pillars of faith that are conspicuous elements of a Muslim’s life, taught
Sister Maria. These are: Profession of Faith, Prayer, Almsgiving, Ramadan and Pilgrimage.

 

– Profession of faith

The Muslims’ fundamental belief is that "there is no God besides Allah and Mohammed is his prophet". This is repeated five times a day in their prayers as a constant reminder that God is simply God. To the Muslims, this is the nucleus which Islam orbits around. The Muslims do not have statues or figurines to look upon their God. God’s transcendence is powerful enough to bend knees and command worship. Muslim leaders are either respected lay people or direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.

 

– Prayer
Muslims pray five times a day in the general direction of Mecca at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night. This daily routine enables Muslims to put down their earthly chores and sustain a constant relationship with Allah. Also practised by Catholic religious, this allows us to be God-conscious throughout the day. With God in our lives, we do not work alone. The phrase "Ora et labora" means "Our work is our prayer and prayer is our work."

 

– Almsgiving
Muslims share their wealth with others. "Since all is given by God, then nothing of what I own is mine, unless it is shared according to God’s will." Generally, Muslims give up 2.5 percent of their income to their less financially advantaged Muslim neighbours. Proof of Allah’s blessing is evident in the economic well-being of his people, and grace is not invisible. Instead, it is tangible through family, offspring, property, security and good order.

 

– Ramadan
Muslims fast during the holy month of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset unless they are sick or on a journey. From as young as 12 years old, believers participate in this spiritual cleansing. Fasting helps Muslims identify with the poor. In fact, fasting and almsgiving are directly linked. Fasting also helps the believer to connect body, mind and soul.

 

– The Pilgrimage (or Hajj)
The Hajj is a journey back to Mecca, the point of origin where Prophet Mohammed was born. Every Muslim works toward embarking on this journey at least once in their lives. This spiritual journey brings together a communion of believers and it defines being Muslim.

 

Contrary to popular belief, Islam stresses on the importance of gender equality and the Quran confirms its stand on the matter. There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today. - By Melissa Leong

SOME 150 CATHOLICS received a deeper understanding of Judaism at a talk titled "Love of God, Love of My Jewish Neighbour", by Infant Jesus Sister Maria Lau on Jul 15 at Church of the Risen Christ.

Judaism was founded over 3,500 years ago in the Middle East. "Judaism and Christianity have the same beginnings," Sister Maria commented. "Jesus’ apostles sprang from the Jewish people, and Jesus is the bridge between Jews and Christians." The Old Testament of the Christian Bible comes from Jewish scripture.

Sister Maria pointed out three features of Judaism: each Jew has a relationship with God where God looks after them and they keep God’s laws; Judaism is a faith of community – Israelites believe that they have been chosen to be examples of holiness to the world; and Jewish rituals and customs revolve around the home.

Jews seek holiness in every aspect of life. This can be seen in their practice of praying three times a day, and strict observances in their diet and of the Sabbath.

"If you want to invite Jewish friends for anything, keep in mind they cannot come on Friday night till Saturday evening," Sister Maria said. The Jews follow scriptural injunctions to rest as God had rested on the seventh day during the creation of the world. The Jewish Talmud lists 39 types of work forbidden on the Sabbath.

Sister Maria is the chairperson of the Singapore Archdiocesan Council for Inter-Religious and Ecumenical Dialogue (IRED). At the talk, she also mentioned points from Nostra Aetate, a Second Vatican Council declaration on other faiths. "Vatican II really opened the doors for us. It says that our neighbours can still be saved. The church widened its tent to include others."

She added that it is in this context that the IRED organized the series of talks. "We hope in future more people will come and work with us to further inter-religious dialogue," she said. - Regina Xie