FaithWorld

Hong Kong funeral expo shows new ways to deal with the dead

(A TV journalist tries a coffin during Asia Funeral Expo (AFE) in Hong Kong May 19, 2011/Bobby Yip)

For the seven million citizens of Hong Kong, living comfortably in the one of the world’s most densely populated cities is difficult enough, but dying presents is own set of challenges. Around 43,700 people died in the territory in 2010. By 2020 that number is expected to rise to almost 53,000. A majority will be cremated, since land shortages forced most people to abandon burials in the 1980s and cremations became acceptable.

But now the city’s public columbarium, where relatives can keep ashes in an urn in a 30 cm (one foot) crevice in a wall, has run out of space. As a result, Hong Kong residents have been forced to store their loved ones’ remains in funeral homes, privately-run storage facilities, or their own homes.

“In recent years there are more than 100,000 people waiting for columbarium space,” said Tiu Tong Ng, Honourable President of Hong Kong’s Funeral Director Association. “Usually it take three to four years to obtain this kind of space. The government has to solve this problem,” he told the Asia Funeral Expo, which opened in Hong Kong Thursday.

Read the full story by Stefanie McIntyre here.

View a slideshow of the Asia Funeral Expo here.

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China says respects religious freedom after pope laments pressure

(China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu in Beijing, December 7, 2010/David Gray)

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it hoped the Vatican could acknowledge the reality of religious freedom in the country, after the pope said Beijing was putting pressure on the faithful who want to remain loyal to the Vatican.

“We hope the Vatican can squarely face the reality of religious freedom in China and the continuous development of Chinese Catholics, and take concrete actions to create conditions for developing Sino-Vatican ties,” ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing.

17 Chinese churches petition parliament for religious freedom

(Chinese police usher people onto a bus at the site of a planned outdoor service by the Shouwang Church at the Zhongguancun commercial district in Beijing in this still image from April 10, 2011 video/Reuters TV)

Seventeen churches in China have appealed to China’s lawmakers to provide legal protection of religious freedom after police detained dozens of Christians from a Beijing church that has been trying to hold outdoor services. The petition, delivered on Wednesday by hand to the National People’s Congress — China’s rubber-stamp parliament — was the first of its kind and the boldest statement by the nation’s “house churches” to the central government.

It comes as the United States has sharply criticised China for its crackdown on dissent. China has jailed, detained or placed in secretive informal custody dozens of dissidents, human rights lawyers and protesters it fears will challenge Communist Party rule.

China says everything normal at restive Tibetan temple

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(A Tibetan in Nepal on a 24-hour hunger strike in Kathmandu April 18, 2011, to express solidarity with victims of a Chinese crackdown last month/Navesh Chitrakar)

China has said everything was “normal” at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery after the Dalai Lama urged restraint in a stand-off between security forces and Tibetans at the temple in southwest China. “According to what we understand, over the past few days the life and Buddhist activities of the monks at the Kirti monastery are all normal. Social order there is also normal. Material supplies in the temple are totally sufficient,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing.

“The Kirti temple’s administration and local police a long time ago set up a police-temple joint patrol team. The aim was to prevent people of uncertain identity from entering the temple. Relations between the police and the temple have always been harmonious,” Hong added on Tuesday without elaborating.

Vatican warns China bishops over illegal ordination

(Christmas Mass at a Catholic church in Beijing December 24, 2009/David Gray )

(Christmas Mass at a Catholic church in Beijing December 24, 2009/David Gray )

Bishops in China who are ordained without papal authorisation inflict a “grave wound” on the entire Catholic Church and should not let themselves be manipulated by the government, the Vatican has said. The Vatican issued the warning on Thursday after a meeting of a special commission that studies the situation of Catholics in China, who are not allowed to recognise the pope’s authority but forced to be members of a state-backed Church.

Last November, the Vatican condemned the ordination without papal permission of Reverend Joseph Guo Jincai, a member of the state-backed Church in Chengde. For a period before that, China and the Vatican had reached an agreement that the Vatican would give tacit but not explicit approval to some of the appointments of bishops by the government-backed Church after discreet consultations.

It said at the time various bishops loyal to the pope had come under pressure to attend Guo’s ordination ceremony.

Chinese police break up planned service by evicted Protestant church

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(Uniformed and plainclothes police surround a man at the site of a proposed church gathering at a shopping area in Beijing April 10, 2011/David Gray)

Hundreds of Chinese police scrambled to prevent a planned outdoor service by a “homeless” church on Sunday, shoving people into vans and buses in the latest show of the Communist Party’s determination to smother dissent and protests. The Shouwang Church, a Protestant group with about 1,000 members, had urged members to gather for the outdoor service after they said official pressure forced the church out of a place of worship it had been renting.

But hundreds of police officers covered the area in the Zhongguancun commercial district, where the Shouwang Church had planned to worship, deterring any effort by church members and supporters to gather for the morning service.

iPad 2 sold out in the afterlife as Chinese pray for the dead

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(Fake money -- "Hell Bank Notes" -- on sale for the Qingming festival, or Grave-Sweeping Day, at a shop in Kuala Lumpur March 31, 2009/Zainal Abd Halim)

Apple’s iPad 2 shortage has spread to the afterlife as Chinese families in Malaysia rush to buy paper replicas of the popular new gadget to burn for their dead as part of a centuries-old rite. During the Qingming festival, also known as the tomb sweeping festival, Chinese communities in Asia honour their ancestors by burning fake money or replicas of luxury items such as flashy cars and designer bags.

The festival, which stems from Confucian teachings of loyalty to family and tradition, is also celebrated widely among the Chinese in Malaysia, who make up a quarter of the 28 million people in the mostly Muslim but multicultural country.

Beijing “house church” faces eviction in tense times in China

(Christians attend Sunday service at Shouwang Church in Beijing's Haidian district October 3, 2010. Shouwang is a "house church", a church that is not officially sanctioned by the government and houses smaller congregations. These churches are reported to be getting increasingly popular in the Chinese capital. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic)

(Christians attend Sunday service at Shouwang Church in Beijing in this file photo from October 3, 2010/Petar Kujundzic)

Tears flowed at one of Beijing’s biggest “house” churches when some 300 Chinese Christians prayed on the last Sunday before they face eviction from their makeshift place of worship, pressed by officials wary about religion outside of their grip. The Shouwang Church, with about 1,000 members, is one of the biggest Protestant congregations in Beijing that has expanded beyond the confines of churches registered and overseen by the ruling Communist Party’s religious affairs authorities.

But the Party is wary about any potential unrest, and this gathering of neat middle-class and student Christians has been told by its landlord that it can no longer worship at the “Old Story Restaurant,” with its walls lined with pictures of Chinese Party leaders shaking hands with former U.S. presidents.

Exiled Tibetans vote after Dalai Lama gives up political leader role

dalai lama

(Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama delivers a teaching session inside a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala March 15, 2011/Mukesh Gupta)

It may be a low-key campaign for 83,000 votes dotted around the globe, but an election of exiled Tibetans may ring in momentous changes for one of the world’s regional hot spots. Three secular candidates are battling to fill a vacuum created by the Dalai Lama’s move to relinquish political power after more than five decades as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, a town of temples, hotels and trinket shops.

The March 20 vote for prime minister may prove a landmark in replacing a religious monarchy with a more radical leader claiming democratic legitimacy to speak for Tibetans, dealing a huge symbolic blow to China’s claims to rule the region. But it could also open up fissures between traditional Tibetans and a younger tech-savvy generation about the role of the Dalai Lama. Some fear for the very future of an exiled movement long used to the dominance of their spiritual leader and opposition to his move has already emerged.

Tibetan monk burns to death in China protest, support group says

tibet protest

A Tibetan Buddhist monk burnt himself to death in western China Wednesday, triggering a street protest against government controls on the restive region, a group campaigning for Tibetan self-rule said. The self-immolation appeared to be a small repeat of protests that gripped Tibetan areas of China in March 2008, when Buddhist monks and other Tibetan people loyal to the exiled Dalai Lama, their traditional religious leader, confronted police and troops.

The 21-year-old, named Phuntsog, was a monk in Aba, a mainly ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province that erupted in defiance against Chinese control three years ago. The monk “immolated himself today in protest against the crackdown,” said Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet, a London-based organisation.

“He shouted some slogans about freedom when he did it,” said Zorgyi, a researcher for the organisation, who is based in northern India, where many exiled Tibetans live. “We’ve also received widespread information about a protest with nearly one thousand monks and lay people that came after,” Zorgyi said.