Asian Catholics join Pope Francis in praying for Muslim hajj victims

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SHAFAQNA – Catholics in Asia have joined Pope Francis in praying for Muslim pilgrims killed in the recent stampede near the holy city of Mecca even as they remain critical of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi officials said at least 769 people were crushed to death Sept. 22 during the final days of the annual hajj when Muslims ritually stone the devil in Mina, where Satan is believed to have tempted Abraham, situated about five kilometers from Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Muslims are expected to undertake the pilgrimage at least once in their lives, with an estimated 2 million attending this year.

News reports describe the incident as the worst disaster to strike the Muslim pilgrimage center in a quarter century.

Pope Francis, while on a trip to the United States, prayed for the Muslim pilgrims at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, expressing “my sentiments of closeness” for people who suffered at the Mecca tragedy.

“In this moment of prayer, I unite myself with you all in prayer to God, our father, all powerful and merciful,” the pope said.

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country with some 206 million, the number of Indonesians dead in the stampede was reportedly 46 with scores more remaining missing.

“We’d like to express our deepest condolences. We’d also like to show our sympathy to those injured in the tragedy. We pray that God will accept all their good deeds,” Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Amboina, chairman of the Indonesian bishops’ Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, told ucanews.com Sept. 30.

Bishop Mandagi called on the Indonesian government to encourage the Saudi government to pay serious attention to the protection of hajj pilgrims. “This is the task and the responsibility of the government of Saudi Arabia. The government of Indonesia must encourage them so that a similar tragedy will not occur in the future,” he said.

Indonesians usually comprise the largest hajj contingent; this year about 168,000 visited Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage.

In Pakistan, home to the second largest number of Muslims, the small Christian community there also expressed grief over the tragedy and prayed for those killed, especially the 23 Pakistanis feared dead.

Father James Channan, regional coordinator of the United Religions Initiative-Pakistan, said he heard the news with great shock. “This is very sad … I have shared emails of condolences to 85 countries in our network.”

The director of the Dominican order’s peace center in Pakistan also held the Saudi government responsible for the number of dead because the hajj has a history of such stampedes and accidents.

The latest incident comes within two weeks of a crane collapse at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing 109 people on Sept. 11.

“This is not the first incident; they should learn a lesson from past tragedies. It is their primary responsibility to implement strict security measures and offer proper guidance and instructions to all the pilgrims,” Father Channan told ucanews.com.

Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad said he called several Muslim friends to express his condolences.

“Every year I celebrate Eid by visiting Muslim friends but this time we come together to share this grief,” the bishop told ucanews.com.

Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, one of the two most important festivals in Islam, commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to follow God’s command to sacrifice his son, and follows the hajj.

In the Philippines, Asia’s most Catholic country with more than 86 percent of its population Catholic, the head of the bishops’ Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People expressed sympathy with the families of those who died.

“In this moment of loss and time of sorrow … we are one with the bereaved families. We offer our prayers,” said Bishop Ruperto Cruz Santos of Balanga on Sept. 27.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs Department reported that one Filipino was among the dead.

“The Almighty whom we place our trust and hope will surely be merciful to him,” Bishop Santos told reporters.

An estimated 8,000 Filipino Muslims joined the pilgrimage this year.

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