Pope Francis on Sunday expressed “solidarity with the people of Myanmar” following last week’s military coup, urging the army to work towards “democratic coexistence” as thousands demonstrate in the streets.
The pope was speaking as tens of thousands of protesters poured on to the streets of Yangon in the biggest rally yet against Monday’s military coup.
“I pray that those in power in the country will work… towards the common good,” he said from the balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square after his recital of the Angelus prayer Sunday.
Pope Francis is to meet top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq in March, a senior Catholic cleric told AFP on Thursday.
Louis Sako, patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, said it would be a “private visit” between the two religious figures at Sistani’s residence in the shrine city of Najaf, “without formalities.”
Sistani, 90, is never seen in public and rarely accepts visitors. The confirmation of the bilateral meeting comes weeks after other parts of the Pope’s visit were set.
Sako said he hoped the two figures would sign the document on “human fraternity for world peace,” an inter-religious text condemning extremism.
Pope Francis signed the document with the leading Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, in February 2019.
Sako said the pope was hoping for endorsement from an influential Shiite cleric like Sistani.
“He would represent the second major part of Islam signing on to this historic document,” the cardinal told AFP.
Pope Francis is set to be in Iraq from March 5 to 8 with an ambitious programme that will take round the country.
In Baghdad, he will hold a mass at the Church of Our Lady of Salvation, where a deadly attack in 2010 left dozens of celebrants dead.
He will also travel north to Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh plains, overrun by the Islamic State group in 2014, and the nearby Kurdish regional capital Arbil.
Following his visit to Sistani, he will travel to the ancient city of Ur, where Abraham is said to have been born.
The Pope will hold an inter-religious prayer service there, to be attended by representatives of Iraq’s various faiths — Shiite and Sunni Muslim, Yazidi and Sabean, Sako said.
‘A source of hope’
Iraq once counted more than 1.5 million Christians, but the community has been ravaged by successive conflicts.
Following the US-led invasion of 2003, sectarian warfare prompted followers of Iraq’s multiple Christian denominations to flee and attacks by IS in 2014 further hit all minority communities.
Now, an estimated 400,000 Christians remain in Iraq, out of a total population of 40 million.
Many have expressed hope that the Pope’s visit will highlight the challenges facing the community, including prolonged displacement and little representation in government.
“It will be a comfort and a source of hope,” Sako said.
He said Christians were suffering from the weakness of the Iraqi state, compared to other armed actors and even tribes that were threatening the presence of minorities.
“It’s like the Middle Ages,” said the cardinal.
Much of Iraq is no longer experiencing active conflict but a twin suicide blast a week ago killed more than 30 people and wounded dozens more.
The Pope condemned that attack as a “senseless act of brutality.”
But overall, Iraqis have been more concerned by a severe economic downturn prompted by the collapse in world oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused thousands of deaths in the country over the past year.
The spread of the virus appears to have slowed according to official numbers, and Pope Francis was recently vaccinated.
Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Diocese of Sokoto as a member of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Human Integral Development.
His appointment was contained in a letter to Bishop Kukah dated 11th December 2020, and signed by His Eminence, Peter Cardinal Turkson, the Prefect of the Dicastery.
A statement by the Director, Social Communications, Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, St. Bakhita Catholic Secretariat, Rev. Fr Christopher Omotosho, says that by this appointment, Bishop Kukah will join other members of the Dicastery drawn from different regions of the world to advise and promote the Holy Father’s concerns on issues of justice and peace, human rights, torture, human trafficking, care of creation and other issues related to the promotion of human dignity and development.
The appointment, which is renewable is for an initial period of five years. The Council will be formally inaugurated on a later date.
Rev. Fr. Omotosho noted that the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development was created on January 1, 2017, when four Dicasteries, namely, the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, Pastoral Care of Immigrants and Itinerant People, and Health Care of Workers, were all merged by the Holy Father.
“This appointment adds to Bishop Kukah’s string of national and international engagements within the universal Church.
“He was first appointed a Consultor and later a member of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, Vatican City and served under three Popes”.
Bishop Kukah is currently, Chairman, Dialogue Committees of both the *Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA) and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).*
He was a member of the official Delegation of the Holy See that met with the Emir of Qatar when that country opened diplomatic relations with the Holy Sea in 2002.
In 2016, he was nominated by the Vatican to represent Africa on the *Advisory Board of the Vienna based, King Abdulazeez International Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue, (KAIICID).
KAIICID is the fruit of the collaboration between the governments of Saudi Arabia, Austria and the Holy See for the promotion of worldwide Dialogue between world religions.
Rev Fr. Omotosho added that Bishop Kukah comes to the Dicastery on the Promotion of Integral Development with a lot of experience in the areas of human rights, justice, and reconciliation.
Both Pope Francis and his predecessor, former pope Benedict XVI, have received the coronavirus vaccine, the Vatican said on Thursday.
“I can confirm that as part of the Vatican City State vaccination programme to date, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been administered to Pope Francis and the Pope Emeritus,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
Pope Francis’ personal doctor, Fabrizio Soccorsi, has died from health complications related to the coronavirus.
According to the Catholic News Agency which quoted Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the 78-year-old physician, who was being treated for an “oncological pathology”, died at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital.
Soccorsi had trained in medicine and surgery at Rome’s La Sapienza University.
In August 2015, Pope Francis named him his personal physician, after not renewing the term of papal doctor Patrizio Polisca, who was also head of the Vatican’s healthcare services.
Since the pontificate of St. Pope John Paul II, the two positions had been tied together, but Pope Francis diverged from this custom by choosing Soccorsi, a doctor from outside the Vatican.
While he was alive, Soccorsi travelled with the pope on many of his international trips.
In May 2017, on one of the visits to Fatima, Portugal, the Pope laid two bunches of white roses before the statue of the Virgin Mary for Soccorsi’s daughter, who was critically ill, and died the following month.
Pope Francis on Sunday called on Americans to show their “sense of responsibility” and support for democratic values as he lamented the midweek storming of the Capitol in Washington.
Among five deaths during the incident was a US Capitol police officer who died of injuries sustained during clashes with a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters who overran a session of Congress.
“I urge the State authorities and the entire population to maintain a high sense of responsibility in order to soothe tempers, promote national reconciliation, and protect the democratic values rooted in American society,” the pontiff said during Sunday prayers broadcast from the Vatican.
Francis said he was sending a “loving greeting” to the US people “shaken by the recent assault on Congress” and said he was praying in memory of the five people killed “in those dramatic moments”.
“I reiterate that violence is always self-destructive — nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost,” the Argentinian pope concluded in his Angelus prayer.
Earlier, in an interview with Italian broadcaster Canale 5, the pontiff had said he was “amazed” by Wednesday’s assault on Congress.
Pope Francis made his comments with Trump facing a potential second impeachment attempt as he enters the final days of his presidency after losing November’s presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden.
The article of impeachment charges that Trump committed a criminal act by “willfully inciting violence against the Government of the United States” by repeatedly insisting he had defeated Biden.
He also addressed supporters and told them the election outcome was “an egregious assault on our democracy,” and urged them to “walk down to the Capitol” to show their displeasure at the result.
Pope Francis has called opposition to the coronavirus vaccine “suicidal denial” urging people to get the jab and saying he would get vaccinated himself next week.
“Next week, we will start to do it here (in the Vatican) and I made an appointment, we must do it,” he told Canale 5 in segments released on Saturday from an interview set to be broadcast the next day.
“There is a suicidal denial which I cannot explain, but today we have to get vaccinated,” the pontiff said.
With a ball made from rags and surging adrenaline, the young Jorge Bergoglio and his friends pulled off “miracles” playing football in the street, Pope Francis recalled on Saturday.
Now 84, the Argentine pope remembered “the joy, the happiness on everyone’s faces,” after the 1946 victory of his Buenos Aires team, San Lorenzo, in a 31-page interview about sport published Saturday in Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport.
The first pope from Latin America called Diego Maradona a “poet” on the field, as he weighed in on the joys of sport.
Expounding on themes of hard work, sacrifice and camaraderie, Francis shared memories of the makeshift footballs that sufficed to exhilarate him and his boyhood friends.
“Leather cost too much and we were poor, rubber wasn’t used so much yet, but for us all we needed was a ball of rags to amuse ourselves and to create miracles, almost, playing in the little square near home,” Francis said.
Acknowledging he was “not among the best” of the footballers, Bergoglio played goalkeeper, which he characterised as a good school for learning how to respond to “dangers that could arrive from anywhere”.
The pontiff — described by the paper as “a pope of the people in the most noble sense of the term” — touched on the need for teamwork and working towards a shared goal.
“Either you play together, or you risk crashing. That’s how small groups, capable of staying united, succeed in taking down bigger teams incapable of working together,” he said.
The interview, which took place in early December at the Vatican, also saw the pope condemn doping in sport and stress the need to nurture talent through hard work.
“It’s not only a cheat, a shortcut that revokes dignity, but it’s also wanting to steal from God that spark which, through his mysterious ways, he gave to some in a special and greater form,” he said.
Francis called the Olympics “one of the highest forms of human ecumenism”, involving “sharing effort for a better world”.
– Fragile poet – He recalled meeting Argentine footballer Maradona, who died in November, during a “match for peace” in Rome in 2014.
“On the field he was a poet, a great champion who brought joy to millions of people, in Argentina as well as Naples. He was also a very fragile man,” Francis said.
The pontiff said that after learning of Maradona’s death, he prayed for him and sent a rosary to his family with some words of comfort.
The pope, who has made inclusion of marginalised people one of the central themes of his papacy, shared his amazement and emotion at the accomplishments of the athletes who compete in the Paralympic Games, while expressing disappointment at “rich champions” turned “sluggish, almost bureaucrats of their sport.”
Sport, he said, was marked by the efforts of so many of those who, “with sweat on their brows” beat those born with “talent in their pockets”
“The poor thirst for redemption: give them a book, a pair of shoes, a ball and they show themselves capable of unimaginable achievements.”
Pope Francis appeared in public Friday for the first time since skipping New Year’s masses at St Peter’s Basilica because of a bout of sciatica.
Standing behind a desk and next to a Christmas tree and a nativity scene, the pontiff led the traditional Angelus prayers in the Apostolic Palace.
“I send you all my best wishes for peace and serenity in the new year,” he said.
“The painful events which marked the life of humanity last year, in particular the pandemic, taught us how necessary it is to take an interest in the problems of others and share their concerns.”
The Vatican announced Thursday that Francis would be unable to celebrate New Year’s masses Thursday evening and Friday morning because he was suffering from sciatica, a chronic nerve condition causing hip pain for the 84-year-old.
Shortly before Christmas, two cardinals in the pope’s entourage contracted Covid-19, raising fears that Francis, who rarely wears a mask, risked infection.
During Italy’s first lockdown in March, Francis initially delivered his Sunday Angelus prayers from the Vatican library instead of his usual window overlooking crowds on Saint Peter’s Square.
The restriction prompted him to say he felt “caged”, and he made several brief appearances at the window, greeting the few people who ventured out into the vast square.
The pope has a risk factor for the coronavirus aside from his advanced age. When he was 21 years old in 1957, he suffered from severe pleurisy, requiring surgery to remove part of his right lung, according to biographer Austen Ivereigh.
The Vatican has not yet indicated when the pope may be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Pope Francis said in his Christmas message Friday that fraternity was a watchword for these unusually troubled times exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“At this moment in history, marked by the ecological crisis and grave economic and social imbalances only worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, it is all the more important for us to acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters,” he said in his “Urbi et Orbi” message.
He said this call for solidarity was especially aimed at “people who are the most fragile, the sick and all who at this period find themselves without work or in grave difficulty due to the economic consequences of the pandemic and to women who have been subjected to domestic violence during these months of confinement.”
The pontiff also touched on the plight of children caught up by war, singling out victims in Syria, Yemen and Iraq in his Christmas message.
“On this day, when the word of God became a child, let us turn our gaze to the many, all too many, children worldwide, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, who still pay the high price of war,” he said.
“May their faces touch the consciences of all men and women of good will, so that the causes of conflicts can be addressed and courageous efforts can be made to build a future of peace,” he said.
Pope Francis will make a historic visit to Iraq in March, the Vatican said Monday, the first ever by a pontiff and which will include a trip to the city of Mosul, a former jihadist stronghold.
The pope has long spoken of his desire to visit the Middle Eastern country, where two decades of conflict has taken a heavy toll on Christian communities.
The Argentinian-born pope called for peace and reconciliation in Libya and Iraq, “particularly to the Yazidis, sorely tried by these last years of war.”