CHRISTIAN NEWS MAGAZINE FOR KERALA MALAYALEE CHRISTIANS FROM INDIA AROUND THE WORLD
JANUARY 2009 WORLD NEWS & EVENTS
VOL:08 ISSUE:01

NO ROOM AT INNS AS BETHLEHEM SEES UPSWING AND SEEKS INVESTORS


ENI-08-1033

By Judith Sudilovsky

Bethlehem, 22 December (ENI)--Unemployment has shrunk to 23 percent and hotel capacity is often around 100 percent these days, so things are looking up for Bethlehem says the head of the city's chamber of commerce and industry board. "While some may gasp at the mention of 23 percent unemployment, when we have witnessed 45 percent unemployment, 23 percent is an improvement," said Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairperson, Samir Hazboun, at a recent meeting with journalists.

He told reporters that Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born, had celebrated its one millionth visitor of the year in November. This, Hazboun said, was the highest number in decades, and he hoped there would be at least 100 000 more visitors by the end of 2008. "We witnessed similar numbers in the year 2000 in preparation for the millennium celebrations but after that there was a downturn [with the outbreak of the second intifada]. It started to improve in 2005," said Hazboun.

Yet, although visitors from India, Poland and Russia are expected to increase, the people of Bethlehem believe the current world economic crisis will hit them after Christmas, Hazboun noted. Of the current visitors to Bethlehem, 76 percent are pilgrims, and while most tourists stay in the city for only about two hours, some who come for religious reasons spend the night in order to attend a church service or pray at the holy sites.

Bethlehem has a hotel capacity of 3000 rooms, Hazboun said, and the construction of three new hotels now being completed will add another 250 rooms. Still, he said this would not be enough to accommodate all the visitors who come to Bethlehem. The city is increasingly perceived as a safe destination, Hazboun asserted. He said Bethlehem currently receives about 100 tour buses daily. He lamented, however, the border situation in Bethlehem that requires groups to go by bus through an Israeli-manned checkpoint, or to walk through a labyrinth-like checkpoint.

"The spiritual situation of Bethlehem is important for Christians, and this city has to be open to Jerusalem without any impediments," Hazboun said. He said 27 percent of the 185 000 residents of the district, which includes the "Christian triangle" of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jalla and some smaller villages, are Christian. In Bethlehem proper, which has 31 000 residents, the figure is 45 percent. Bethlehem faces a brain drain, with much of the educated population emigrating because of a lack of job opportunities. Still, an agreement has been signed with France to create an industrial zone that will have space for light industry and a training centre, said Hazboun.

"We want to encourage people to invest here, and are preparing a set of programmes for joint ventures," said Hazboun, who said the city was doing its "utmost" to attract local and international investors. "We recognise it is a problem for some because they feel it is highly risky to invest here but we can offer insurance from the IFC [International Finance Corporation] of the World Bank on their investment." [520 words]

[COURTESY TO ENI AS SOURCE]

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CHURCHES CHEER POLL WINS BY CHRISTIANS IN INDIA'S HINDU HEARTLAND


ENI-08-1023

By Anto Akkara

Bangalore, India, 17 December (ENI)--India's Bharatiya Janata Party, accused by opponents of pursuing a Hindu nationalist agenda, has swept to victory in Madhya Pradesh state, but leaders of the minuscule Christian community there say they have reason to rejoice. The BJP retained power, winning 143 of the 230 seats in the state legislature when the results were published in mid-December. However, three Christians were among those elected on the ticket of the Congress party to the legislature of the state, where Christians account for less than one percent of the state's 80 million people.

"We are really happy about this," Church of North India Bishop P. C. Singh of Jabalpur told Ecumenical News International on 15 December. Bishop Singh pointed out that the three Christians elected to the state legislature - two Roman Catholics and a CNI member - are from his diocese. "This is a real achievement for the Christians in Madhya Pradesh," said the Rev. Anand Muttungal, a spokesperson for the Catholic Church in the central Indian state. Muttungal pointed out that groundwork for the Christian success at the polls had been done by an ecumenical grouping called an Isai Mahasangh, or Grand Council of Christians, that has encouraged lay Christians in recent years to play an active role in politics.

One of the successful candidates, Joseph Pachilal Meda, a Catholic, was the vice president of the council coordinated by Muttungal and had contested village council and municipal elections prior to his bid for a state legislature seat. "We never made any hue about his background as a Christian. But, we stood behind him and mobilised the votes for him," Muttungal explained. "The only way we can get support in the government is through getting people close to the churches elected."

Under BJP governance, Madhya Pradesh had reported many attacks on Christians with the state administration seen as doing little to bring perpetrators to justice. "In many places, the churches shied away from promoting and supporting its people in politics and civil society. That's why we launched the Sangh (Council)," said Muttungal. Said the CNI's Bishop Singh, "We have a moral duty to promote our lay people into active politics. They will certainly stand by us in times of need." [367 words]

[COURTESY TO ENI AS SOURCE]

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AT 90, BIBLE 'CORRECTED' AFTER PROTESTS OVER TRANSLATION IN INDIA


ENI-08-1012

By Anto Akkara

Bangalore, India, 15 December (ENI)--A dispute over the translation of a Hebrew word meaning "green" or "leafy" tree in the Old Testament of the Bible has led to vociferous protests by local people in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. The controversy concerns a passage in the Book of Deuteronomy (12:2), which states, in the English translation of the New Revised Standard Version, "You must demolish completely all the places where the nations whom you are about to dispossess served their gods, on the mountain heights, on the hills, and under every leafy tree."

Problems emerged when local activists spotted that in the translation into the Kurukh dialect, the tree was referred to as a "Sarna" tree, a species that local rural people, referred to as tribals, hold in great reverence. Tribal activists had burned an effigy of Roman Catholic Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, a former president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India who in 2003 became the first tribal person from India to be elevated as a cardinal.

"It was never intended to hurt the local sentiments and we have acted immediately as soon as it was brought to our attention," said Soma Bhatkar, who represents the Bible Society in India in Jharkhand and Bihar. In early December she had convened a meeting of secular scholars on the subject and collected more than 600 copies of the translation available in bookshops. These will be corrected with non-controversial phrases such as "green trees", she noted. "The Bible should not be a cause of hurt to any one," B. K. Pramnik, the general secretary of the Bible society told Ecumenical News International from his headquarters in Bangalore. "So, we have promptly withdrawn the available copies of the translation that were printed 10 years ago.".

Acknowledging the translators made an "unintentional mistake", Pramnik said the society had also appealed to local congregations to bring the Bibles for correction to its regional office in Ranchi as more than 2000 copies were printed when the translation was released. [348 words]

[COURTESY TO ENI AS SOURCE]

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LETTERS TO GOD REACH JERUSALEM FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD


ENI-08-0999
By Judith Sudilovksy

Jerusalem, 11 December (ENI)--Some are addressed to "Jesus", "All inclusive Chris,", "The Temple of Abraham", "Holy Mary", or the "City of God", but most of the letters which end up in the Israeli Postal Service's Dead Letter Department simply bear the word "God". No one really knows how the tradition started of sending letters addressed to God from this little postal service office next to a landmark bakery. Israeli Postal Service general manager Avi Hochman said, however, it is a "huge" responsibility.

The postal service receives up to 2000 letters throughout the year and these are placed between the stones of the Western Wall, the holiest site for Judaism. As Christmas and Hanukah approached, and the Muslim Holiday of Eid Al-Adha was celebrated, the letters were on 9 December being prepared for transfer to the rabbi of the Western Wall. "We receive these letters and then [feel] we are doing a mitzvah [good deed], by putting it then in the Western Wall," said Hochman. "We are in the holy city of Jerusalem, traditionally considered to be close to God."

The Western Wall, the only remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple which once stood on the Temple Mount, or al-Hiram al-Sharif, as it is called in Arabic, was one of the retaining walls King Herod built to support a platform on which he built the second Jewish Temple. Today it is Islam's third holiest site with the the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. Avi Yaniv, manager of the Dead Letters Department, said most of the letters are written by Christians, some by Jews and fewer by Muslims, though letters have arrived from Malaysia and Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country. This year a letter arrived for the first time from Morocco addressed to the legendary Arab leader who defeated the crusaders, "Sallah Adin, Al Quds" (Jerusalem in Arabic). The department also receives letters to Santa Claus, said Yaniv.

According to Jewish tradition, prayers placed in the wall will be answered directly by God. In recent years many of the letters came from the former Soviet Union, said Yaniv. Many letter writers are under emotional strain and ask for God's help in financial or employment difficulties, such as one from Spain, Yaniv said. They also seek God's protection for the health and welfare of their children and spouses.

One young girl, addressing God as "My Father" wrote about her abusive father and in another letter, said Yaniv, a recent widower beseeched God to allow his much-loved wife to appear to him in a dream so he could see her one more time. Some letters are read, noted Yaniv, largely to satisfy a growing media interest. Most of the letters, however, go unread, though they are all opened so they can be folded and placed in the Western Wall. [484 words]

[COURTESY TO ENI AS SOURCE]

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INDIAN CHURCHES SAY BOMBERS NEED SEVERE SENTENCE, NOT DEATH


ENI-08-0998

By Anto Akkara

Bangalore, India, 10 December (ENI)--Church leaders and Christian groups have said those violently fomenting sectarian violence in India should be punished severely, but they have said they oppose capital punishment after a court sentenced 11 Muslims to death for carrying out blasts in several churches in south India in 2000. The court in Bangalore said the accused had committed "heinous crimes against humanity and the country". In addition to the 11 people who were sentenced to death on 29 November, another 12 were given life imprisonment.

Bomb blasts had been reported at more than a dozen churches in different cities of Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Karnataka states in 2000. The blasts were said to have been carried out by the Deendar Anjuman Muslim group "to discredit" Hindu extremists who were at the time accused of widespread anti-Christian violence. "The question is not how many casualties or how much damage there was. There was a clear intention to cause death and destruction," Catholic Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore told Ecumenical News International while hailing the guilty verdict.

"Only severe punishment will deter those who indulge in such acts," said Moras who heads the regional council of Catholic bishops in southern Karnataka state. He also noted that, "the Catholic Church is opposed to death penalty as such" and that, "most probably higher courts will reduce the death sentence." Under Indian law a death sentence has to be confirmed by higher courts and it should be ordered only in the most rare of cases.

"These kind of crimes deserve stringent punishment," Methodist Bishop Tharanath Sagar, president of the National Council of Churches in India, told ENI. Bishop Sagar, said, however, that "from our faith perspective, churches cannot support the death sentence for any crime". Sagar, who is based in Bangalore, lamented that while police "investigated the blast meticulously, they did not show the same eagerness when investigating anti-Christian violence by other groups", such as by Hindu extremists.

The Global Council of Indian Christians, also based in Bangalore, urged the government "to extend clemency for the 11 persons given the death penalty in the church blasts cases". The council said it would plead with constitutional bodies to reduce the death sentence to life imprisonment. "Christians believe in the pure gift of life for some, not a weapon of brutal murder for others," the council stated. [404 words]

[COURTESY TO ENI AS SOURCE]

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