PODCAST: Pakistani Christian couple on death row acquitted of blasphemy (ICH 06.05.21)

This is the International Christian Herald podcast. Here are the top stories you need to know about today.

According to Christianity Today, The Pakistani Christian woman who replaced Asia Bibi in her prison cell on death row, Shaguftah Kausar, has—after a dozen delays since April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic—been acquitted from the death penalty by the Lahore high court. The mother of four, along with her disabled husband, Shafqat Emmanuel, was arrested for blasphemy in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014. Despite both being illiterate, the Catholic couple, surnamed Masih*, were convicted of sending blasphemous texts—in English—to Islamic clerics. The couple appealed against their death penalty in 2016, but the appeal was continuously delayed—leaving them languishing in jail for years—because blasphemy cases are so controversial and sensitive in Pakistan. When the then-EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figel, visited Pakistan to discuss Asia Bibi’s case in December 2017, he told officials that the renewal of the nation’s export privileges to Europe depended on her release. It was only after Bibi’s acquittal in October 2018 (and final freedom in spring 2019), that her lawyer Saif ul Malook—in the glare of international media attention—said his next case would be that of Shaguftah. This was the first time many people heard of the married couple’s separate cases.

According to MSN, Germany’s most prominent Catholic leader, an adviser to Pope Francis, has offered his resignation to the pontiff in a lengthy letter, citing his personal role in the “catastrophe” of sexual abuse. “I feel that through remaining silent, neglecting to act and over-focusing on the reputation of the Church I have made myself personally guilty and responsible,” Cardinal Reinhard Marx wrote to the pope in a letter published Friday. Marx’s offer was unusually public and self-reflective, given the opaque manner in which Catholic prelates usually step down. The Vatican has not said whether the pope will accept Marx’s resignation as archbishop of Munich and Freising. He has been asked by the pope to stay on the job until a decision has been made, Marx said in a separate statement. Still, the offer by itself represents the most significant fallout to date from investigations of abuse within in the German Catholic Church.

According to CBN, Seth Mahiga, who served as secretary for Atheists in Kenya (AIK) for less than two years, officially resigned from his position with the society on Saturday after giving his life to Jesus Christ. In a video posted online, Mahiga shares the good news with a group of church members. “I’ve been going through some difficulties in life and then I decided to resign as the secretary so I’m so happy to be here,” he said. AIK President Harrison Mumia thanked Mahiga for his service and wished him well in his future endeavors. “Seth’s reason for resigning is that he has found Jesus Christ and is no longer interested in promoting atheism in Kenya. We wish Seth all the best in his new found relationship with Jesus Christ,” Mumia wrote in a statement.

According to the Wall Street Journal, The Vatican on Tuesday unveiled an updated version of the Catholic Church’s penal code to reflect scandals over clerical sex abuse and financial corruption that have shaken the church in recent years, expanding the types of offenses as well as potential culprits and victims. The new penal code broadens the categories of persons who can be punished for sex abuse to include laypeople and nuns, but doesn’t provide for the automatic defrocking of abusive priests as some campaigners have demanded. Though mostly a collection of legislation established by popes over the past three decades, it places greater emphasis than the previous code, published in 1983, on the obligation to enforce penalties, stating that bishops are required to take punitive action when warnings or other measures are inadequate to do justice or reform the guilty. In a decree instituting the revisions, Pope Francis wrote that charity and discipline are intimately related and that the proper remedy for immoral behavior “is not only exhortations or suggestions.”

According to Vatican News, At least 400 priests and nuns have died in India due to Covid-19, the bulk of them in the height of the devastating second wave of infections in the country in April and May. The grim figure is provided by Capuchin priest Father Suresh Mathew, the editor of the Church-run Indian Currents magazine, who has been compiling the list of the country’s priests and nuns who have died in harness in the pandemic. According to the update as of Saturday, May 29, 205 priests and 210 nuns have died of Covid-19, bringing the total to 415. The number could be higher as some casualties are not reported. The list includes 3 bishops: retired Archbishop Antony Anandarayar of Pondicherry-Cuddalore and Bishop Basil Bhuriya of Jhabua died on May 3 and 5 respectively. Retired Bishop Joseph Pastor Neelankavil of Sagar of the Syro-Malabar rite, died on February 17, this year. “The high rate of casualties among priests and nuns is due to them working in remote areas where medical facilities are rare,” Fr. Mathew pointed out. “Most of them risked their lives to serve the church and society. The nation lacks infrastructure in the health sector. They lived and worked in rural areas and died amidst them,” he told Vatican News. The death toll involves 98 dioceses and 106 religious congregations. Despite the risk of infection, dioceses and religious congregations have been reaching out to ease the suffering of the people hit by the pandemic. Many dioceses and congregations have made their facilities available for the treatment of Covid-19 patients. Several others have started free meal services for hospitalized Covid-19 patients, their families and those quarantined. Father Mathew solicits reports of deaths from India’s religious congregations and communities and the country’s 174 dioceses to compile his list. He said that the number of casualties has “increased due to asymptomatic conditions and late access to hospitals which resulted in late diagnosis”. He said some of those infected went about doing their normal duties. “Gatherings, retreats, meetings etc.” he said, “caused a huge number of infections.” “We should have set a model for others by avoiding unnecessary gathering of priests and religious,” Father Mathew pointed out, adding the death toll would have been much lower had there been enough vaccines and a higher rate of inoculation.

In closing, remember, God loves you. He always has and He always will. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you don’t know Jesus as your Saviour, today is a good day to get to know Him. Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thanks so much for listening and may God bless your day!

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