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114-year-old Catholic church burns down in Canada: 6 churches on fire in one week

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A Catholic church destroyed in a suspicious fire early Wednesday was the “heart and soul” of the town north of Edmonton, where it had stood for more than a century, according to the community’s mayor.

“What’s happened is a terrible and tragic event for our community,” Morinville Mayor Barry Turner told a morning news conference, hours after the St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church went up in flames.

“It was really the heart and soul of a lot of what went on in our community and, as I’ve said before, we cannot replace what was lost today.”

Bystanders watched as the steeple, engulfed in flames, toppled from the skyline of the town of 10,600 people, 40 kilometres north of Edmonton.

The charred remains of the wooden structure will be levelled.

Morinville residents are reeling from the shock and grief of the loss, Turner said.

The town will look to rebuild on the site, he said.

“I’m confident that our community will respond in a way that we can all be proud of.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. RCMP are looking into the possibility of arson.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney visited the scene and condemned the destruction of churches as “hate-motivated arson attacks.”

At least six other Catholic churches on First Nation lands across Canada have burned down in the past week. RCMP say they are treating the other fires as suspicious.

Kenney said the province will work with police and other law-enforcement agencies to increase patrols at churches that could become potential targets.

“This historic church was in the heart of Morinville and a key part of the spiritual life of Alberta’s francophone community,” Kenney said in a statement.

“These attacks targeting Christian churches are attempts to destroy the spiritual sites that are important to people of faith across Alberta, including many Indigenous people.”

Fire crews arrived on scene at 3:20 a.m. local time to find the building fully engulfed and already threatening to collapse.

Surrounding buildings were evacuated. About 50 residents living in the former convent building were forced to leave their homes. That building was damaged by water and smoke. The flames were brought under control by 7 a.m.

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says he understands the rage, frustration and pain brought on by the
discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools, but funnelling that anguish into burning down churches will not bring justice.

“To burn things down is not our way,” Perry Bellegarde said Wednesday. “Our way is to build relationships and come together.”

‘An empty feeling in our hearts’
Phil Schayes, who is Métis, said the church was at the forefront of his upbringing in Morinville.

“We used to be able to see the church steeple and we don’t see that anymore and that kind of leaves an empty feeling in our hearts but that said, I think it’s a time for reflection,” Schayes said.

If the fire was motivated by hate toward the Catholic Church over wrongs committed in residential schools, the loss of the building should be seen as a symbol of the need for reconciliation, he said.

Many of his Indigenous brothers are hurting, he said.

“I feel bad that we’re at this point but it has to come out,” Schayes said. “If we’ve wronged them, which I think that we did, then shame on us.

“Imagine if someone felt so bad inside, so much hate, that they had to burn down a church where so many people found a lot of peace. We can put up another church but a person that is hurting like that, we have to find a way.”

Paul Terrio, bishop of the Diocese of St. Paul, issued a statement urging people to resist speculating on the cause of the fire, and asking that they pray for parishioners.

Parishioner Eileen Vollmer lives a block away and often admired the church from the window of her living room.

She said she cried as she and her husband watched the wreckage burn. Vollmer said many of her family memories are connected to the church.

“My mom was baptized here, had her first communion and confirmation here, got married here and had her funeral here,” Vollmer said. “Our children were baptized there and we always went to church here.”

Vollmer has lived in Morinville since 1960 and attended the church since she was a young girl. She often helped the congregation welcome its newest members, she said.

“I made all the little baptism capes that were given to each baby that was being baptized and I just finishing making 12 little first communion veils for the little girls.”

The church is a landmark in the town and was a frequent gathering place for residents, said Vollmer, one she admired for the history it shared both with the town and her own family.

“It’s just very sad.”

About 50 firefighters were called to the scene, Morinville said in its statement.

Iain Bushell, the town’s general manager of community and infrastructure services, said flames spread quickly through the old wooden structure. The building was already threatening to cave in by the time crews arrived.

“There was already fire in the basement as they attempted to enter the building … it was already charged with smoke. And they could already hear the sounds of collapse on the inside so then they evacuated.”

The structure, completed in 1907, is a “complete loss,” Bushell said.

“The St. Jean Baptiste Church is an iconic church,” he said.

“It’s part of the landscape.”

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Myanmar: Catholic priest, catechist abducted by armed group

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An armed resistance group opposed to Myanmar’s military junta in the western state of Chin has seized a Catholic priest and a catechist travelling with him.

Members of the Chinland Defence Force (CDF) seized Father Noel Hrang Tin Thang along with a catechist while they were travelling from Surkhua town to Chin state capital, Hakha on July 26, UCA News reported. Both belong to Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Surkhua in Hakha Diocese.

Bishop’s appeal
Local Bishop Lucius Hre Kung of Hakha has called for their release, expressing concern for their safety and well-being nearly a week after their abduction.

“I call on the concerned leaders of the CDF to immediately release the pair,” Bishop Hre Kung said in a letter released on August 1. Local Catholics have also expressed concern and said prayers for the immediate release of the cleric and the catechist.

Father Tin Thang has been helping numerous of displaced people including the elderly, women and children who took refuge in the parish following clashes in early June, according to sources.

Allegations
Following the letter of Bishop Hre Kung, the CDF said the priest and catechist were in good health.

The group accused the priest of giving information to the military junta, getting medical support from the junta and urging locals to receive the junta’s support. The group said it had warned the clergy not to contact the military’s security force, and they had to arrest Father Tin Thang as he failed to comply. “We will release them only after our demands of transferring the priest from Surkhua to Hakha and signing letters of recommendation from two church leaders are fulfilled,” the group said.

However, according to the Italian news agency, AGI, the priest and the catechist were arrested in Hakha while buying medicines for the people of Surkhua. The local community denies Father Tin Thang had any involvement with the security force.

Father Paul Thla Kio, a priest of Hakha Diocese told the Vatican’s Fides news agency that the CDF has seen Father Tin Thang having contacts with a general of the army. Father Thla Kio explained that the general, who is a Catholic and attends Masses, often went to the priests’ residence. In fact, Father Tin Thang asked the general to avoid violence.

Civil resistance groups
The ousting of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government by the military on February 1, has thrown the nation into chaos with nationwide protests, strikes and a civil disobedience movement, demanding the restoration of the government and the release of their leader. There have been no signs of a letup in the bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military on its opponents in a bid to consolidate its hold on power. The offensive has re-ignited the military’s old conflicts with some of the armed ethnic organizations as well as numerous independent civil resistance groups.

The CDF is one of these civil resistance groups fighting the military. Using homemade weapons, the CDF has inflicted heavy casualties among junta forces in a conflict that erupted in Chin state in May. Clashes are still raging and more than 18,000 people have been displaced in Chin state and neighboring Magway and Sagaing divisions, according to a United Nations report on July 30. During the conflict, priests have been targeted, with the military arresting eight priests from Chin and Kachin states and Mandalay division in May and June.

Ethnic Christians
Christians are a minority in the predominantly Buddhist country, accounting for 6.2 percent of its 54 million population. Myanmar Catholics represent about 1.5 percent of the population.

Areas occupied by the Kachin, Chin, Karen and Kayah ethnic groups, who have been facing oppression and persecution at the hands of the military for decades, are largely Christian.

Thousands of innocent civilians in have been displaced by the conflict. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, over 220,000 people have been displaced by conflicts and insecurity since the coup.

Myanmar’s complex crises
The serious political, socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian crises generated by the coup, have been exacerbated by a raging third wave of Covid-19 infections, with an acute shortage of oxygen and near absence of the most basic healthcare.

Myanmar’s military ruler Min Aung Hlaing marked 6 months since the coup on Sunday by taking on a new title as prime minister of a newly formed caretaker government. The military-backed State Administration Council (SAC) that was formed after the Feb. 1 coup, has now been reformed as a caretaker government. The junta leader promised fresh multi-party elections in 2 years, saying he will cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on finding a political solution to the country.

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Israeli Archaeologists Find 3,100-Year-Old Alphabetic Inscription

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The ancient inscription was found inside a storage pit at Khirbat er-Ra‘I, an archaeological site some 3 km northwest of Tel Lachish in Israel.

It was written in ink on a jug, a small personal pottery vessel that holds approximately one liter, and may well have contained oil, perfume, or medicine.

It contains the letters yod (broken at the top), resh, bet, ayin, and lamed, and remnants of other letters.

“The name ‘Jerubbaal’ is familiar from Biblical tradition in the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash,” said Professor Yossef Garfinkel from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University and Dr. Saar Ganor from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“In Biblical tradition, he is then remembered as triumphing over the Midianites, who used to cross over the Jordan to plunder agricultural crops.”

“According to the Bible, Gideon organized a small army of 300 soldiers and attacked the Midianites by night near Ma‘ayan Harod.”

“In view of the geographical distance between the Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, this inscription may refer to another Jerubbaal and not the Gideon of Biblical tradition, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to the judge Gideon.”

“In any case, the name Jerubbaal was evidently in common usage at the time of the Biblical Judges.”

Inscriptions from the period of the Judges are extremely rare and almost unparalleled in Israeli archaeology.

“As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether Biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David,” the archaeologists said.

“The name ‘Jerubbaal’ only appears in the Bible in the period of the Judges, yet now it was also discovered in an archaeological context, in a stratum dating from this period.”

“In a similar manner, the name ‘Ishbaal,’ which is only mentioned in the Bible during the monarchy of King David, was found in strata dated to that period at the site of Khirbat Qeiyafa.”

“The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.”

 

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