Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
June 28, 2009

As the observance of our nation's Independence Day draws near-this coming Saturday is the Fourth of July recent events on the international scene (to wit, in Iran and North Korea) remind us of the fact that the liberties that we as Americans enjoy (and that we take perhaps too much for granted as something that we could never lose) are today for tens of millions on the other side of the globe nothing more than an aspiration, a hope that may never be fulfilled. Freedom of religion, of speech and assembly, and freedom from unlawful search and seizure, together with the assurance under the rule of law that our own persons will be secure- these are the liberties in pursuit of which those hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens of all ages and classes have been rallying in Teheran's streets and plazas, as well as in the streets of other major cities in that unhappy land. Whether these protest rallies will be crushed by forces loyal to the Islamist mullahs' fanatical regime remains to be seen.  Our prayers should go with the multitudes who are risking life and limb and property in their rising up for liberty--cynics would call it a reckless adventure-an uprising that brings to mind our own revolt against colonial exploitation, though assuredly the kind of force that an 18th century British government could employ against distant rebels was nothing like the force that a 21st century totalitarian regime, unrestrained by the scruples of a Christian conscience and armed with all the resources that modem technology provides, can bring to bear in the interests of repression. And when one looks beyond Iran to the north and east-China, evolving, is a separate case-the spectacle of North Korean brutality makes a patriot's dream in that slave state seem to be nothing more than a dream, a hope forlorn that for many years may well be beyond attainment.

During our Fourth of July celebration, as we give thanks to Almighty God with a proper recognition of the blessings that we enjoy as ultimately HIS gift, may we be resolute in the defense of our liberties against the encroaching ambitions of an expansionist government, against the mounting threat of executive overreach,  fiscal irresponsibility, and judicial usurpation of legislative power.
Our founding fathers put us on notice that "etemal vigilance is the price of liberty." Let's be willing to pay that price. And let us ask Almighty God for forgiveness of our nation's sins, in particular for  forgiveness of our citizens' complicity in the murder ol some fifty million children. Seeking such forgiveness from a God Who is just is a necessary condition for any justifiable hope that we can rely as a nation upon His continuing protection.

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In dramatic illustration of the oppression under which millions of North Koreans are compelled to live (and as a sober reminder of what could happen, not inconceivably, one day to us,) may I share with you, first of all, an Op- Ed essay from the Wall Street Journal for June 16th, written by Melanie Kirkpatrick and presenting forcefully the conditions of life that prevail in that vast prison camp that is misnamed The People's Republic of North Korea. Then may I offer for your reflection on this Fourth of July a series of appeals for at least moral support from the Christian West retrieved from the blogs of Iranian civilians at the height of the protests. These appeals and on-the-scene reports were reprinted in the Journal for June 19, 2009

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Inside North Korea's Gulag
    By: Melanie Kirkpatrick
    The Wall Street Journal, Tues. June 16, 2009

Last week a North Korean court sentenced American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling to 12 years of "reform through labor." The women, arrested in March along the North's border with China, were researching the plight of North Korean refugees who flee to China. Their trial was closed, and their crimes---other than the alleged illegal border crossing-were unspecified.

In recent years, I have spent many hours interviewing refugees from North Korea, including some who escaped from re-education camps. Their accounts of prison life accord with a recent assessment by the U.S. State Department. Conditions are brutal and life-threatening according to the February report. "Torture occurred," the report notes matter-of-factly. Refugees have spoken to me of newborns separated from their mothers and left to die.

North Koreans can end up in re-education camps for such crimes as listening to foreign radio broadcasts, secretly practicing a religion, or crossing the border to China in search of food. Inmates are subjected to forced labor and are required to memorize political tracts. They receive little food, no medical care and sometimes serve multiyear terms wearing the clothes in which they arrived at camp. I interviewed a woman who had been wearing high heels when she was arrested and had to bind her feet in rags when those wore out. Many prisoners die of abuse or malnutrition.

POLITICAL prisoners are held under even HARSHER conditions in "kwan li so" penal camps. The committee for Human Rights in North Korea estimates the number of political prisoners at 200,000; the State Department puts it at between 150,000 and 200,000. Political offenses include such crimes as sitting on a newspaper that contains a picture of dictator Kim Jong Il. Punishment is often collective and can extend to three generations of the offender's entire family.

Shin Dong-Hyok may be the only person to have escaped from a Kwan li so camp. now in his mid-20's and living in Seoul, was bom and Mr. Shin,spent the first 22 years of his life in Camp No. 14, a so-called total control facility. In an interview at The Wall Street Journal's headquarters in New York last year, Mr. Shin spoke of growing up. His formal education was limited to the rudiments of reading and writing. Because political prisoners are usually incarcerated for life, the camps don't bother with political re-education; Mr. Shin said he didn't even know who Kim Jong Il was until after his escape. Nor did he understand the concept of money until, after his escape, he walked through a market and noticed bits of colored paper being exchanged for food.

At 12 or 13-he is unsure of the year in which he was born-he was forced to watch the executions of his mother, who was hanged, and his brother, who was shot.  They had attempted to escape. Hoping to pry information out of him--Mr. Shin had none-camp officials bound the boy's hands and feet, embedded a hook in his groin and dangled him over a fire. In the Journal's conference room, Mr. Shin pulled up a leg of his trousers to show me the scars.

Mr. Shin survived thanks to the kindness of a fellow prisoner, a former government official who had run afoul of the regime. They plotted a route to China-a country Mr. Shin had never heard of-but his friend was electrocuted on the wire that surrounded the camp. Mr. Shin literally crawled over his body to freedom.

Incredibly, he made his way to the border and on to Shanghai, where he climbed over the wall of the South Korean consulate. In 2005, the Chinese government permitted Mr. Shin to go to Seoul.

North Korea hasn't said where Ms. Lee and Mrs. Ling will be incarcerated. It's possible that they will receive more favorable treatment than ordinary prisoners, especially if the North wants to use them for propaganda purposes.

In the epilogue to "The Aquariums of Pyongyang," his 2000 book about growing up in the infamous Yodok prison camp, Kang Choi-Hwan expresses his anger at the world's indifference to the human-rights abuse in the North. "We're told that this debate would be better left until another day," he writes. "But by then we'll all be dead." I pray Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling will come home soon. But if the Americans' ordeal raises international awareness of the horrors of North Korea's gulag, it will not have been in vain.

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'The Fear Is Gone'
The Wall Street Journal, Friday, June 19, 2009

Don't Accept This Coup
   By Kareh from Tabriz

Ahmadinejad has taken revenge on the students of Iran during these violent days. The regime's aim is to damage universities, since they are the first base of change, movement and protest.

I live in the dorms at Tehran University. I was asleep when Basij militiamen entered my room early Monday morning, demolished everything and started beating us. A man with a long beard broke my notebook and said: "It is destroyed, this book that you were using against Islam and Ahmadinejad."

They beat students more when they saw posters of Mousavi in their rooms. And they carried big knives and guns.

They also attacked the women's dormitory next door. The Supreme Leader calls us rioters, but I want to ask him: How can sleeping women in their beds be rioters? Is this the Islamic justice he believes in?

President Obama's speech was good; he says that he will support us. He also said that nations must decide the fate of their countries by themselves. I agree with him, but now we don't have any power to change the situation, so we need help and attention.

We ask the president not to accept this coup détat.

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This Government Is a Lie
   By Soudeh in Tehran

I have never seen such a huge number of diverse people protesting in Iran. People are really angry and refuse to be patient. Adhadinejad's government challenged our honor. How can we trust anything when the government perpetrates such a big lie?

They don't have pity on anyone. Some of the police cannot speak Farsi. I saw one of them beating a man as he cursed in Arabic. People say they are from Hezbollah.

These men barge into homes and threaten people by calling their families. And they are savage against peaceful demonstrations. Hospitals are full of people injured by the Military Guard, yet the Supreme Leader of Iran called us seditious. We just want the right to a real vote ....
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Women on the Front Lines
    By Negin in Tehran

Friends from all over the world call my cell phone nonstop to make sure we're safe. The connection is either cut or so bad that we have to guess what the other person is saying .... Until a few days ago most people believed that this protest was just the voice of suppressed students and youngsters. But now we know this isn't true. "No fear, no fear: We are together." This is what we heard today from millions of people from different generations in Tehran.

The number of people that participated in the demonstration surprised everyone, but what has fascinated me is their variety. At the beginning I thought this was going to be a fight between the lower class and the middle class. What I saw on Monday changed my mind completely. I saw many women, young and old, covered head-to-toe in black chadors shouting and chanting among the demonstrators and joining the young girls who were sitting on the ground in the middle of the street to stop the Basij militia from walking inside the crowd.

That image will never be wiped away from my mind. The women on the front line with their loose colorful scarves had opened their arms, ready to be killed, while others were beaten by the Basij on the side of the road.

People want to be heard and supported by the rest of the world. They were sending messages to the West with their cameras. They were calling on Obama and Sarkozy to demand that the Free World not recognize this government. I saw a few women shouting: "Now it's your turn to support democracy and human rights."

"The fear is gone. Nothing seems to be an obstacle anymore. They can filter all the Web sites and shut down the Internet, SMS service, and mobile phones, but they cannot shut our mouths." This is what I hear all the time....
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Marching to Freedom Square
   By Alireza in Tehran

There is something in the air in Tehran these days. We remain afraid, but we also dare to speak. I left my home in Tajrish along with my family at 3 p.m. to head to the protest on Monday. We knew that people were supposed to gather in Enghelab [Revolution] Square at 4 p.m. and march toward Azadi [Freedom] Square. From Gisha Bridge onwards, we saw people walking. Cars were blowing their homs and people were flashing the victory sign. I also saw a group of about 20 militiamen with long beards and batons on motorbikes.

My hand was hanging out of the taxi window with a little green ribbon-the color of the reformists-tied around my finger. One of the militiamen told me to "throw that ribbon away!" When I refused, 15 people attacked me inside the car. They beat me with their batons and tried to pull me out.

My wife and my daughter who were sitting in the back seat cried and held me tight. I also held myself tight to the chair. As they tried to shatter the car windows the driver went out and explained that he is just a taxi driver, we are just his passengers, and he hadn't done anything wrong. After about five minutes they left us alone.

Soon we joined the crowd at Enghelab Street. What I saw there was the most magnificient scene I have every witnessed in my life. The huge numbers of people were marching hand-in-hand peacefully. There were no slogans being shouted. Hands were held up in victory signs with green ribbons. People carried placards which read: silence. Young and old, men and women, rich and poor were marching cheerfully. It was an amazing show of solidarity. I was so proud.

Enghelab Street, the widest avenue in Tehran, was full of people; some estimated that there were one to two million people there. As we marched, we passed a police department and a Basij base. In both places, we could see fully-armed riot police and militiamen watching us ftom behind fences. Near Sharif University of Technology, where the students had chased away Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a few days before, Mir Hossein Mousavi (the reformist president-elect) and Mehdi Karrubi, the other reformist candidate, spoke to the people and were received with cries of praise and applause.

My family and I had put stickers on our mouths to represent the suppression of the regime. Other people carried signs. One quoted the national poet Ahmad Shamlu: "To slaughter us/why did you need to invite us/to such an elegant party." Another made fun of the government's claim that Ahmnadinejad won 24 million votes. "The Miracle of the Third Millennium: 2 x 2 = 24 million." Others just read. "Where is my vote?"

When we finally arrived at Azadi Square, which can accommodate around 500,000 people, it was full. We saw smoke coming from Jenah Freeway and heard the gunshots. People were scared but continued walking forward.

Later, my sister told me that she saw four militiamen come out from a house and shoot a girl. Then they shot a young boy in his eye and the bullet came out of his ear. She said that four people were shot.

On my way home at around 2 a.m. I saw about 10 buses full of armed riot police parked on the side of the road. There were scattered militiamen in civilian clothes carrying clubs patrolling the empty streets. And in Tajrish Square I saw a boy around 16 holding a club, looking for something to attack.

At Ahmadinejad's 'victory' ceremony, government buses transported all his supporters from nearby cities. There was full TV coverage of that ceremony, where fruit juice and cake were plentiful. At most 100,000 gathered to hear his speech, including all the militiamen and soldiers.

We reformists have no radio, no newspaper, and no television. All out Internet sites are filtered, as well as social networks such as Facebook. Text messaging and mobile communication were also cut off during the demonstrations. And yet we had hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

The state-run TV station has announced that riot police will severely punish anybody that demonstrates. Ahmadinejad called the opposition a bunch of insignificant dirt who try to make the taste of victory bitter to the nation. But his remark was answered by the largest demonstrations ever.

Older people compared Monday's gathering to the demonstrations of 1979 which marked the downfall of the Shah's regime. They even said that this even was larger.

Democracy is a long way ahead. I may not be alive to see that day. With eyes full of tears in these early hours of June 16, I glorify the courage of those who have already been killed. I hope that the blood of these martyrs will make every one of us more committed tofreedom, to democracy and to human rights.