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Attacks on churches must end: Indigenous leaders in Canada

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Canadian Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors have called for suspected arson attacks on churches to stop.

Since June 21, five Catholic churches in Canada have burned completely to the ground, while other Catholic and Christian churches have suffered fire damage or have been vandalized with graffiti. Most of the church fires have occurred on tribal land.

The most recent church fires occurred this week in the provinces of Alberta and Ontario. The House of Prayer Alliance Church, a predominantly Vietnamese church in Calgary, was discovered burning, while Johnsfield Baptist church on Six Nations land in Ontario was also discovered on fire early Monday morning. The fires were extinguished without significant damage to either church, the CBC reported; police believed both fires to be intentionally set.

Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in northwestern Alberta was targeted with Molotov cocktails on Saturday, Global News reported on Sunday. A fire in the church was extinguished. Police suspected arson at Trinity United church in Spruceland, British Columbia, over the weekend, according to the Prince George Citizen.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police continues to investigate numerous “suspicious” fires and acts of vandalism at churches throughout Canada, but it is unclear if all the fires are connected. Four of the destroyed churches were located in British Columbia; two churches were discovered burning in the early morning hours of June 21, and two more on the morning of June 26.

The fires have occurred after recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools for First Nations and other Indigenous children. The schools were run by Catholics and members of Christian denominations.

Following the reports of church vandalism and churches being discovered on fire, some Indigenous leaders and survivors of these residential schools have called for attacks on churches to stop. One residential school survivor, Cheryle Delores Gunargi O’Sullivan, said in a press conference on Monday that the alleged arson is “villainizing us, when really we are the victims.”

“It’s not going to help us to build relationships or rebuild relationships with religion, with the government, or even with the RCMP,” she said. “It’s counterproductive. And it really needs to stop so we can focus on the children that have yet to be found.”

Jenn Allan-Riley, a descendant of residential school survivors and an assistant Pentecostal minister, said in a press conference that acts of destruction are “not in solidarity with us Indigenous people.”

“This is not our native way,” she said.

“We do not hate people. We do not spread hate,” she said. “We love people. We do not destroy other people’s (houses of worship.)”

The residential school system was set up by the Canadian federal government beginning in the 1870s, and the schools themselves were overseen by Catholics and members of Christian denominations. The Catholic Church, or Catholic religious orders, ran more than two-thirds of these schools at one point. The last federally-run residential school closed in 1996.

First Nations and other Indigenous children were separated from their families and sent to the schools as a means of forcible assimilation, to strip them of family and cultural ties. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which operated between 2008 and 2015, reported on the history of the school system and determined the schools were part of Canada’s Aboriginal policy of “cultural genocide.” The commission found that at least 4,100 children died from “disease or accident” at the schools.

In recent months, hundreds of unmarked graves have been discovered at the sites of former residential schools, through ground-penetrating radar.

In May, the graves of 215 Indigenous children were discovered at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. On June 24, Cowessess First Nation leaders announced that 751 unmarked graves had been discovered at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan; leaders emphasized that the discovery was of unmarked graves, and was not a “mass grave site.”

Then on June 30, Lower Kootenay First Nation leaders announced the discovery of 182 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former St. Eugene’s residential school near Cranbrook, British Columbia.

Allan-Riley noted that many First Nations people and residential school survivors are still practicing Catholics, and have now lost their places of worship during an already troubling time.

“The burning and defacing of churches bring more strife, depression [and] anxiety to those already in pain and mourning. Former survivors of Canada residential schools are triggered by the sight of burning and deface churches,” said Allan-Riley.

“It also brings former traumatic feelings of violence and threats to their lives. This is also putting further division between Canada’s Indigenous people and the rest of Canadian society.”

Neither Allan-Riley nor O’Sullivan believe that the fires were set by Indigenous people. They delivered their comments after Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey condemned any violence against churches, in an emotional video released on July 1. Noskey explained that while the Canadian government’s actions against First Nations children in the residential school system amounted to genocide, destruction is not the answer.

He said that “we are asking you as members, as the Nehiyaw and the Dene, and the communities, in your communities, where you have these churches, that we’re asking you to refrain from vigilante actions against the church buildings.” The Nehiyaw are also known as the Cree people.

Noskey said in the video that he understood the anger felt towards the Church.

“Again, there are 11 schools, and I know adjacent to your reserves there are schools, and you want to,” said Noskey. “You know, I even feel that way many times. We want to do something, right now, right away.”

“But not with a heart of anger or agitation,” he said. “Because in that, we will miss out on doing it right.”

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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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