Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Photo Meditation of the Month (May, 2009): FLOWERS


Photos (Toronto: June, 2008) © Jerome D'Costa


By Jerome D'Costa

Flowers -- what a creation! They grow all over the world -- from extreme cold regions of the Arctic and temperate zones to extremely hot climes of the deserts.

They come and go, yet they leave a euphoric impression on our minds. They make us think of the mystery of Nature and its creator.

Some flowers are annuals, others perennials. They are there for every season of the year. They bring good news and hope to us. They stir our minds and provide a pleasant sensation.

We speak of flowers in terms of "budding", "blooming", "wilting" and "falling" -- all are active verbs, all speak of actions and movements. That's the beauty of the flowers.

Young and old -- all are attracted to flowers. All want to view them, touch and feel them, and smell them.

Flowers speak a language understandable by persons of any race, culture, and region. Flowers can melt any hard heart.

In death, they live, too. Flowers help us decorate our houses, workplaces, and houses of worship. Flower petals are used for making perfumes. Bees collect flower nectar for making honey. By dying they give us seeds and fruits -- either for consumption or for planting in the next season.

Flowers are symbols of innocence, purity, love, sweetness, sympathy, and procreation. They are one of the greatest friends of mankind.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Banner Announces: "Falun Dafa Is Good"


Qiao Shi Yue displays Falun Dafa meditative exercises
at College Park, Toronto

Photo (May 26, 2009) © Jerome D'Costa

Qiao Shi Yue, an elderly diminutive Chinese lady, and her husband tie a banner in between two trees at College Park, Toronto, announcing in Chinese and English "Falun Dafa Is Good." They then display Falun Dafa (also called Falun Gong) meditative exercises to early morning passers-by who do their daily walks and exercises in the park and others who go to their work places. There are some other Chinese who also join them in this morning ritual. This is almost a common scene every morning from late Spring to late Summer every year.

What Is Falun Dafa or Falun Gong?

According to the official brochure of this movement, Falun Dafa or "Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline. It brings together meditation, energy exercises, and moral teachings as a means to cultivating the mind and body, with the ultimate aspiration being spiritual transformation, or what in the East is known as enlightenment." This traditional Chinese spiritual discipline is Buddhist in nature. Truth, compassion and forbearance are the core values of this movement.

Background of This Movement

Falun Dafa is an ancient practice that has been privately passed down from one generation to another. In 1992, Mr. Li Hongzhi, called a Master or Teacher, first taught Falun Dafa publicly in the city of Changchun in China. He also visited different parts of the country to lecture on and teach this spiritual discipline. The number of practitioners grew exponentially and, by 1998, there were about 70 million practitioners in China. Today, it is claimed that, over 100 million people in over 70 countries practise Falun Dafa.

Chinese Government Position on the Falun Dafa

Initially, the Chinese government was in favour of the Falun Dafa. In 1993, Mr. Li Hongzhi was named the "Most Welcomed Qigong Master" in Beijing by a government body with the Award for Advancing Frontier Science. In the same year, The People's Public Security News, the official newspaper of China's Ministry of Public Security, praised Mr. Hongzhi for his contributions "in promoting the traditional crime-fighting virtues of the Chinese people, in safeguarding social order and security, and in promoting rectitude in society." There were many other appreciations of this movement in China.

Then in 1999 things began to change in China. The Chinese government began to see the extraordinary growth of this movement as a threat to the nation. The government banned the practice and started to take any means necessary to eliminate this movement in China.

Mr. Yafei He, minister and deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., USA, told the Mojave Desert News on January 11, 2002: "Falun Gong has now lately displayed a tendency to be violent, to engage in terrorist activities. If they are allowed to have freedom of action or activities wherever they are, it could pose danger."

The Chinese Embassy in Canada in a statement on July 26, 2006 also condemned the Falun Dafa (Falun Gong).

Persecution of Falun Dafa Members in China

The Falun Dafa claims that its members are systematically persecuted, tortured and even killed by the government machinery in China. They claim it to be the largest human rights violation and religious persecution in the world.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Flirting with the Past: Bangladesh Cyclone of May, 1985


Map adapted from:

This girl in Urir Char was grief-stricken
at the loss of her father in the cyclone

All photos (May 28, 1985) taken by Jerome D'Costa

Twelve-year old Jahanara lost her mother,
brother and sister in the tidal wave in Urir Char

Her eyes tell stories of pain brought about
by the cyclone in Sandwip

That's all left of a house after the 5-metre (16-feet)
high tidal waves swept over the Urir Char

No trace of the house that was once standing
at this place in Urir Char

Tha's all left of a house and belongings of this boy's family
in Urir Char

In Urir Char, these two small cyclone shelters
were the only standing structures. All other thatched houses
were washed away by the tidal bore

This cyclone, with tidal waves rising from three to five metres (about 10 to 16 feet) in the Bay of Bengal started in the midnight of May 24, 1985 and continued for about four hours. Today is the 24th anniversary of that dreadful cyclone that had 160 miles per hour wind and that killed more than 11,000 people in the offshore islands. The affected were Hatia, Urir Char and north-western part of Sandwip. One of the worst affected was Urir Char (char in Bangla means a piece of land that rises in a river or coastal area due to heavy silting) with about 20 square kilometres (about 12 sq. miles) area.

Simon Munshi, Ferdaus Daud Haider, Hubert Dores and I, on behalf of World Vision of Bangladesh -- an international NGO -- went to Urir Char on May 28, 1985 via Sandwip Island to asses the damage for relief and rehabilitation work. When we reached this island, it was under knee-deep water. Not a single house was standing except two small cyclone shelters in one corner of the island. Very few people took shelter in the cyclone shelters. They did not leave their houses for fear of losing their household items, food grains and domestic animals to thieves. Out of about 2,800 families in the island, only forty surviving persons were present in the island -- others were either drowned or washed away to the Bay of Bengal.

I had never witnessed such a destruction of human life, animals and property in my life. Bookmark and Share

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sri Lanka: Tamil Rebels Routed, Their Leader Killed

Will the Country Go for Amnesty
and Reconciliation or Racism Again?

Top and bottom photos: Vellupillai Prabhakaran, Tamil rebel chief
and founder of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

Photos Courtesy:

The government of Sri Lanka in a television broadcast has announced that its armed forces routed the Tamil rebels completely and killed 250 rebels including their leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran, reports The New York Times. With this the 26-year-old civil war, the longest running civil war in the world, came to an end.

At this news, the Sinhalese, the majority community in Sri Lanka who have been fighting the minority Tamils, took to the streets singing and dancing.

Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the spokesman of the Tamil Tigers in London, on Sunday said in the TamilNet website: "This battle has reached its bitter end. We have decided to silence our guns." The Tamils in diaspora, those living abroad, although saddened by the latest event, would not give up their fight for independence.

Foreign Ministers of the European Union in Brussels said that they were highly concerned over the reports of high civilian casualties and urged an independent inquiry into alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by both sides.

Observers believe that this time the government of Sri Lanka should be prudent enough to treat the Tamils in such a way that they do not feel alienated again, that they enjoy equality with the majority Sinhalese community and that they be given autonomy in Tamil-majority regions in the north and east of the country. If magnanimity is not shown on the part of the government this time, Sri Lanka will again fall into chaos and the Tamils are most likely to resort to different kind of insurgency -- like that of Iraq and Afghanistan -- bombings in public places and streets. Mr. Prabhakaran is gone, but his legacy will remain for a long time. The government of Sri Lanka needs to act judiciously from this very moment to make Sri Lanka a united and peaceful country that may be an example in South Asia.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sri Lankan Tamil Protest in Toronto: Gunam Veerakathipillai Breaks His 12-Day Fast


Hunger-striker Gunapalasundaram Veerakathipillai
in his temporary "camp" in the Queen's Park in front of the
Ontario Provincial Legislature Building
in Toronto

Veerakathipillai breaking his 12-day fast
after accepting a glass of fruit juice from Peter Tabuns (left),
an NDP member of the Provincial Parliament

Some female members of the Tamil community
carrying some posters and placards

More posters depicting the atrocities of the Sri Lankan army

A Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) flag
is being displayed by a Tamil supporter

Photos (Queen's Park, Toronto: May 14, 2009) © Jerome D'Costa

Gunam (Gunapalasundaram) Veerakathipillai, a Sri Lankan Tamil, broke his 12-day fast today late afternoon after New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Jack Layton informed him and the Canadian Tamil community that Premier and Provincial Parliament of Ontario and the Foreign Affairs Committee of Canada called for "an immediate ceasefire, increased Canadian aid to civilians and a UN investigation of war crimes." Peter Tabuns, a member of the Ontario provincial parliament and member of the NDP, helped Veerakathipillai break his fast by offering him a glass of fruit juice.

Veerakathipillai was part of the Tamils who have been protesting in front of the provincial parliament and other places in the city, through demonstrations, marches, and human chains bearing placards and banners, for the last several weeks, against the Sri Lankan government attack and "genocide" against the Tamils in the north-east of Sri Lanka.

Before breaking the fast, Veerakathipillai read out a statement to the media representatives paresent there. In the statement he said: "...I am concluding my twelve day long fast with hope and optimism for the people of Tamil Eelam who have been subjected to forced starvation, total lack of medical care, indiscriminate and ceaseless bombardment from land, sea and air for the past 100 days and more by the Sinhala government of Sri Lanka.

He also said: "Deeply within me I feel for the hundreds of Tamil children, pregnant mothers, elderly women, men, the youth, the handicapped and mentally ill -- without any energy even to stand, they are blown into bits and buried in mass graves for the inhuman reason that they were born Tamils. Tamils are killed in the shores of Mullaitivu but it is humankind that gets assassinated. In a tragedy like this we expect the free world to stand on the side of the innocent victims. Silence and neutrality only helps the perpetrator."

He mentioned that "the categorical humanitarian call of President Obama that 'Sri Lanka must seek a peace that is secure and lasting' is also very reassuring in our plight for peace and freedom with dignity and justice."

Finally, Gunapalasundaram Veerakathipillai thanked the Ontario Provincial government and Federal government of Canada "for their understanding and solidarity in upholding the fundamental human values of peace and freedom." Bookmark and Share

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Poem of the Month (May, 2009): MOTHER

A doodle on mother (© Jerome D'Costa)

Today is the Mother's Day. Every year, the second Sunday of May is observed as the Mother's Day. On this day, one's own mother is especially remembered and honoured. On this occasion, I offer the following poem.


By Jerome D'Costa

Ma, Madar, Mader, Mai, Mamm, Mama, Mamma, Mana, Mata, Mater, Matre, Matka, Meme, Mere, Moeder, Mom, Mutter -- all mean the same, the 'Mother.'Mother is the life-giver, she is the procreatress.
We are here because of the mother.

We and the mother were intimately connected
Through the precious umbilical cord.

We breathed the same air, we shared the same blood,

We shared the same joy, we shared the same pain,

As the mother did.

After birth, we knew the mother

Through her body odour, warm touch and sweet voice.
She was the extension of ourselves,
She was the other half of ourselves.

Mother was our first teacher, our first friend.

She was our first playmate, our first peer.
She was our first mentor as well as the first disciplinarian.
What we are today, it is because of her.

She had imperfections, she had weaknesses as a human being.

Yet, she is our mother.
A mother is a mother.

Let us appreciate her, let us give her our deepest respect and honour.
Let us also thank God for giving us a mother.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Papal Apology for Abuse of Aboriginal Children in Canadian Catholic Residential Schools

Canadian aboriginal children at a festival

(Photo Courtesy:

Canadian aboriginal woman at a festival

(Photo Courtesy:

Pope Benedict XVI on April 29, 2009, met with representatives of Canadian Catholic communities and aboriginal peoples in a special audience at the Vatican and expressed his sorrow for the physical and sexual abuse of students in government-funded Catholic residential (boarding) schools from 1840's to the 1970's. He also offered his prayerful solidarity to the aboriginal peoples as they move forward, reports Zenit news agency.

Among the persons present at the audience were a group of Canadian clergy and lay Catholics and Archbishop James Weisgerber (of Winnipeg, Manitoba), President of the Canadian Bishops' Conference, who accompanied a group of former aboriginal students and victims, including Phil Fontaine, Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada.

A Vatican press release reported that the Pope, after listening to some stories and concerns of the First Nations representatives, acknowledged the "sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian residential school system and expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church and offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity."

Pope Benedict XVI also emphasized that "acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations peoples to continue to more forward with renewed hope."

Grand Chief Phil Fontaine, who is also an abuse victim, said in a post-papal audience press conference that group members "heard what we came for" and were "very happy" with the meeting and response of the Pope, reports Catholic News Service.

"We hoped to hear the Holy Father talk about the residential school experience, but also about abuses and hurts inflicted on so many and to acknowledge the role of the Catholic Church. We wanted to hear him say that he understands and that he is sorry and that he feels our suffering and we heard that very clearly."


The residential schools for the aboriginal students (1840's to 1990's) were founded through the Canadian government funding. A total of 130 residential schools were operated by the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church, and United Church. About 75% of these schools were administered by the Catholic Church through its Religious Orders. About 150,000 aboriginal students passed through this school system.

The Canadian government wanted to uproot these students from their own culture and assimilate them into the dominant white, Christian culture. Under the penalty of imprisonment, the aborginal families were required to send their children -- aged 6 to 15 -- away to live and study in these schools. Students were forbidden to speak in their own mother languages. They also could not engage in their own cultural and spiritual practices. Many of them were physically, emotionally and sexually abused. In addition, these schools also had problems of overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of facilities.

Apology from Other Churches and Canadian Government

The Canadian Anglican, Presbyterian and United Church leaders had already apologized to the aboriginals for the abuse in their schools. The Canadian government, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, made a formal apology in the parliament in June of 2008.

The Globe and Mail reports that the Catholic entities involved with the schools issued two written apologies in 1991. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) apologized for the physical and sexual abuse as well as for the very existence of the schools. The letter said the system was inspired by a "European superiority complex" that dismissed native spiritual practices as "pagan and superstitious."

The Canadian government, under an out-0f-court settlement with the former residential school students in 2006, is providing billions of dollars in compensation.

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