UN, Pope Condemn Burkina Faso Terrorist Attack, Mourn Victims

 

 

A jihadist attack that left 42 dead in the north of Burkina Faso, the worst assault in the country for five years, plunged the nation into mourning over Christmas and sparked messages of solidarity from the United Nations and Pope Francis.

Thirty-five civilians, including 31 women, and seven soldiers were killed Tuesday in a morning raid which lasted for several hours and targeted both civilians and a military base in the northern town of Arbinda, the army said, adding that 80 assailants were killed.

Around a dozen soldiers also died in a separate night-time ambush 60 kilometres (37 miles) away in Hallele, in the same volatile northern province of Soum, security sources said Wednesday.

Burkina Faso, bordering Mali and Niger, has seen frequent jihadist attacks which have left hundreds of people dead since the start of 2015 when Islamist extremist violence began to spread across the Sahel region.

“A large group of terrorists simultaneously attacked the military base and the civilian population in Arbinda,” the army chief of staff said.

“While the (military) group was under heavy fire, another group of armed individuals attacked the civilian population, mainly women including displaced people who had taken refuge in Arbinda,” a security source told AFP.

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore confirmed that 35 civilians were killed in the “barbaric attack” in Arbinda and declared 48 hours of national mourning over Wednesday and Thursday.

Government spokesman Remis Dandjinou said 31 of the civilian victims were women.

 Pope’s prayers 

There was worldwide condemnation of the attack, as well as expressions of support for Burkina Faso.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the Christmas Eve attack and offered his “deep condolences” to the families of the victims, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

“The Secretary-General conveys the solidarity of the United Nations to the government and people of Burkina Faso,” he added, emphasising the UN’s continued support for the Sahel region in their efforts to fight terrorism and violent extremism.

In his traditional Christmas message, Pope Francis denounced attacks on Christians in Africa and prayed for victims of conflict, natural disasters and disease on the world’s poorest continent.

The pontiff urged “comfort to those who are persecuted for their religious faith, especially missionaries and members of the faithful who have been kidnapped, and to the victims of attacks by extremist groups, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria”.

In Brussels, the head of the European Council Charles Michel tweeted: “Inates in Niger yesterday, Arbinda in Burkina Faso today… Martyr towns, victims of a rampant terrorism that threatens us all. The European Union stands by Africa in its battle against terrorism.”

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou also expressed his “solidarity” and, speaking “in the name of the Nigerien people” offered his “condolences for all civilian and military victims.”

The morning raid in Burkina was carried out by more than 200 jihadists on motorbikes, triggering a fierce firefight that lasted about three hours before armed forces backed by the air force drove the militants back, a security source said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bloodshed, but jihadist violence in Burkina Faso has been blamed on militants linked to both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups.

 560,000 internally displaced 

Leaders of the G5 Sahel nations held summit talks in Niger earlier this month, calling for closer cooperation and international support in the battle against the Islamist threat.

France is also hosting another meeting next month.

Militant violence has spread across the vast Sahel region, especially in Burkina Faso and Niger, having started when armed Islamists revolted in northern Mali in 2012.

There are 4,500 French troops deployed in the region as well as a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali to fight insurgents, backing up national forces of the G5 — Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

In Burkina Faso, more than 700 people have been killed and around 560,000 internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

Attacks have targeted mostly the north and east of the country, though the capital Ouagadougou has been hit three times.

Prior to Tuesday’s attack, Burkina security forces said they had killed around 100 jihadists in several operations since November.

An ambush on a convoy transporting employees of a Canadian mining company in November killed 37 people.

Attacks have intensified this year as the under-equipped, poorly trained Burkina Faso army struggles to contain the Islamist militancy.

AFP

Pope Francis Decries Extremism In Nigeria, Other African Countries

Pope Francis celebrates from the balcony of St Peter’s basilica during the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas message to the city and the world, on December 25, 2019 at St Peter’s square in Vatican. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

 

Pope Francis used his Christmas message on Wednesday to denounce attacks on Christians in Nigeria and other African countries.

He also prayed for victims of conflict, natural disasters and disease on the continent.

The pontiff urged “comfort to those who are persecuted for their religious faith, especially missionaries and members of the faithful who have been kidnapped, and to the victims of attacks by extremist groups, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.”

The pope prayed for those “who suffer because of violence, natural disasters or outbreaks of disease” as well as migrants undertaking a perilous and potentially deadly sea crossing to Europe to seek a better life.

“It is injustice that makes them cross deserts and seas that become cemeteries,” he said in his “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and the World) message at the Vatican.

“It is injustice that forces them to ensure unspeakable forms of abuse, enslavement of every kind and torture in inhumane detention camps. It is injustice that turns them away from places where they might have hope for a dignified life, but instead find themselves before walls of indifference.”

Pope Francis also focused on the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, plagued by insecurity for a quarter of a century due to the presence of dozens of local and foreign armed groups.

“May (Jesus Christ) bring peace to those living in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, torn by continuing conflicts,” the 83-year-old pontiff said.

 

AFP

Pope Lifts Papal Secrecy For Sex Abuse Cases

(File) Pope Francis speaks as as Prefect of the papal household Georg Gaenswein (L) looks on during an audience with participants in the Course on the Internal Forum, on March 29, 2019 at Paul-VI hall in the Vatican. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

Pope Francis has waived the ability to cite papal secrecy in dealing with sexual abuse cases, the Vatican said on Tuesday in a statement.

So-called “pontifical secrecy” is a rule of confidentiality designed to protect sensitive information related to the governance of the Roman Catholic Church.

More to follow…

Pope Francis Arrives In Japan To Preach Anti-Nuclear Message

 

Pope Francis arrived in Japan on Saturday, where he is expected to deliver a robust anti-nuclear message of peace in the only country to have suffered an atomic bomb attack.

The 82-year-old Argentine is fulfilling a long-cherished ambition to preach in Japan, where years ago he hoped to be a missionary.

He arrived in Tokyo in heavy rain and high winds, the white cape of his papal outfit blowing up around his face as he stepped gingerly down the staircase from the Thai Airways plane that carried him from the first stop of his tour in Thailand.

His four-day trip will begin with visits to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, cities forever associated with the nuclear bombs dropped on them at the end of World War II, killing at least 74,000 people and 140,000 people respectively.

In a video message to the Japanese people before he left the Vatican, Francis railed against the “immoral” use of nuclear weapons.

“Together with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons will never be unleashed again in human history,” said the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

Francis arrives from Thailand, where he preached a message of religious tolerance and peace.

He is expected to do the same in Japan, a country with only approximately 440,000 Catholics out of a population of 126 million.

The majority of Japanese practise a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism, two closely intertwined faiths based on the worship of nature and spirits, but many in Japan also observe Christian festivals such as Christmas.

Christians endured centuries of bloody repression in Japan after the religion was introduced to the country by a Spanish Jesuit priest in 1549.

In the 17th century, Japan was closed to the outside world and Christians were persecuted, tortured, crucified and drowned as they were forced to recant their faith.

When Japan reopened to the world in the mid-19th century and the missionaries returned, they were astonished to find an estimated 60,000 who had secretly kept the faith alive and followed a unique version of Catholicism blended with Japanese culture and religious rites.

Francis is expected to pay tribute to these so-called “hidden Christians” — or “kakure kirishitan” in Japanese – during his trip on Sunday to Nagasaki, where they were discovered.

‘Can’t Forget The Bomb’

Francis will also visit Hiroshima and deliver remarks at the world-famous peace memorial that marks the day on August 6, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped.

Father Yoshio Kajiyama, director of the Jesuit social centre in Tokyo, was born in Hiroshima shortly after the war and is eagerly awaiting the pope’s anti-nuclear speech.

“My grandfather died the day of the bomb in Hiroshima, I never knew him. Four days later my aunt died when she was 15 years old,” said the 64-year-old.

“If you grow up in Hiroshima, you can’t forget the bomb.”

In Tokyo on Monday, Francis will met victims of the “triple disaster”, the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in 2011 that devastated large swathes of north-eastern Japan.

His trip will also include meetings with the new Emperor Naruhito and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as delivering a mass in a Tokyo baseball stadium.

On the first leg of his latest Asian tour, Francis spent three nights in Buddhist-majority Thailand, another country where just a sliver of the population is Catholic.

He met with Thai King Vajiralongkorn and also sat down with the Buddhist Supreme Patriarch — the head of Thailand’s Buddhists — readily taking off his shoes during the visit to adhere to local customs.

His cousin Sister Ana Rosa, who has worked as a missionary in Thailand since 1966, was a near-constant presence by his side during the visit, serving as his interpreter.

In his final public address in Bangkok, the pontiff expressed gratitude to the small Catholic community for the warm welcome he received.

“I am leaving you with a task: do not forget to pray for me!”

Pope Urges Respect For Prostitutes At Crowded Bangkok Mass

Pope Francis (C) leads a Holy Mass at the National Stadium in Bangkok on November 21, 2019. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

 

Pope Francis led an impassioned mass for tens of thousands of emotional worshippers at a packed Bangkok stadium Thursday, urging respect for prostitutes and trafficking victims in a part of the world where sex work is rampant.

The remarks came at the end of a whirlwind day of meetings for Pope Francis, who is on his first trip to Buddhist-majority Thailand where he is carrying a message of religious harmony and peace.

He heads to Japan next, visiting the twin atomic bombs sites of Nagasaki and Hiroshima where he will seek a ban on “immoral” nuclear weapons.

The 82-year-old arrived at the stadium in a golden robe woven for him from Thai silk, greeting crowds of flag-waving faithful, some wiping tears from their faces at the sight of the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

An estimated 60,000 worshippers gathered for the mass, some pouring into a nearby stadium to watch the hymn-filled service on large screens.

Known for his down-to-earth style, the Pope did not shy away from difficult topics.

He focused on the importance of helping vulnerable children and women “who are victims of prostitution and human trafficking, humiliated in their essential human dignity”.

He also referred to drug addicts, migrants and “exploited sinners and bypassed beggars”.

“All of them are part of our family. They are our mothers, our brothers and sisters. Let us not deprive our communities of seeing their faces, their wounds, their smiles and their lives,” said the Pope, after leading prayers.

The remarks were delivered in a region beloved by tourists but infamous for a thriving sex trade and unchecked human trafficking.

Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, home to at least 300,000 sex workers — some four percent of whom are believed to be trafficked, according to official estimates.

Many women are drawn to the work because they can earn up to 10 times more than the minimum wage, and critics say some corrupt Thai authorities turn a blind eye to the thriving trade.

Earlier, the Pope praised Thailand’s efforts to stamp out the “scourge” of exploitation and enslavement of women and children, urging a “dignified” future for vulnerable youth.

The Catholic Church has been shaken by child sex abuse scandals itself in recent years, with many high-profile cases brought against clergy.

– ‘Gift from God’ –
Thailand has not had a visit from a pontiff since John Paul II in 1984, and the small but spirited Catholic community was thrilled ahead of the mass.

Just over 0.5 percent of the population is Catholic but the community has been here for centuries.

For Pimrapat Panyawattanatikul, the service was her second shot at seeing a pope after John Paul II touched her head some 35 years ago.

Now she’s hoping her mother will get a similar honour, with the pair sitting right on the track Francis was set to drive past in his Popemobile.

“It’s a miracle we got these seats. It’s my mom’s dream to see the pope and to go to Italy. This is a gift from God,” Pimrapat told AFP, her mother next to her clutching a rosary.

The Pope’s colourful mass capped a packed schedule on the first full day of Thailand where he was welcomed Wednesday by cheering worshippers in Bangkok eager for a glimpse of his motorcade.

On Thursday Francis followed in the footsteps of John Paul II, paying a visit to the supreme Buddhist patriarch Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong at one of Bangkok’s famed gilded temples.

The pair sat before a brilliant gold Buddha statue inside the ornate temple, built 150 years ago by the former Thai King — the supreme patriarch barefoot and draped in orange robes as they spoke.

The Pope reciprocated the gesture, removing his shoes for part of the tete-a-tete.

In an earlier speech, the Pope said the meeting was “a sign of the importance and urgency of promoting friendship and inter-religious dialogue”.

– Nuclear ban –
This visit coincides with the 350th anniversary of the founding of the “Mission de Siam”, marking the first papal mission from Europe in the 17th century.

Though Christianity’s first visitors were initially met with scepticism, today Thailand’s nearly 400,000 Catholics face little discrimination.

The Pope also paid a visit to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha and King Maha Vajiralongkorn, gifting the top royal a colourful mosaic of a papal blessing in Vatican City’s Saint Peter’s Square.

On Friday the pontiff will host another mass, this one for young people, and meet with religious leaders in the city.

He jets to Japan Saturday, where he will visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both devastated when the US dropped atomic bombs at the end of World War II in 1945.

The pope, who years ago had hoped to be a missionary in Japan, has made strong calls for a ban on nuclear weapons.

AFP

Nuclear Weapons: Pope Francis To Visit Hiroshima

Pope Francis delivers his homily during the mass to mark the World Day of the Poor, on November 17, 2019 at Saint Peter's basilica in Vatican. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
Pope Francis delivers his homily during the mass to mark the World Day of the Poor, on November 17, 2019 at Saint Peter’s basilica in Vatican. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

 

Pope Francis, who years ago hoped to be a missionary in Japan, travels to the sites of the world’s only atomic attacks this week seeking a ban on nuclear weapons.

The Argentine pontiff, 82, flies to Asia on Tuesday, where he will first visit Thailand and then Japan, including the two cities destroyed by devastating US nuclear attacks during the Second World War.

Despite both countries having less than 0.6 percent Catholic populations, Francis is thirsty for interreligious dialogue with them.

He will arrive in Thailand on Wednesday before flying on to Japan on Saturday, where he will stay until November 26.

Sunday is set to be a marathon day with visits to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where at least 74,000 people and 140,000 people respectively were killed by the atomic bombs attacks.

The August 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and of Nagasaki three days later contributed to Japan’s surrender and the end of the Second World War on August 15, months after Nazi Germany capitulated.

Father Yoshio Kajiyama, director of the Jesuit social centre in Tokyo, was born in Hiroshima shortly after the war and is eagerly awaiting the pope’s anti-nuclear speech.

“My grandfather died the day of the bomb in Hiroshima, I never knew him. Four days later my aunt died when she was 15 years old,” said the 64-year-old.

“If you grow up in Hiroshima, you can’t forget the bomb.”

No nukes message

The pope will make “as vigorous an appeal as possible in favour of concerted measures to completely eliminate nuclear weapons,” Vatican number two Cardinal Pietro Parolin told the United Nations in September.

“Using atomic energy to wage war is immoral,” the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics told Japanese television in September.

A previous member of Japan’s diplomatic mission to the Vatican, Shigeru Tokuyasu, said he hopes the visit will pull the world back from “the globalisation of indifference” over nuclear weapons.

But, said Tokuyasu, the pope should avoid discussing the politically sensitive issue of nuclear energy.

Francis is als to meet victims of the devastating 2011 earthquake that struck northeastern Japan and the subsequent tsunami that between them killed 18,500 people and sparked the nuclear power catastrophe at Fukushima.

Fear of nuclear war

Francis is used to railing against countries that make money from weapons and has already voiced his fear of a nuclear war.

In January last year, he printed cards with a photo of a Nagasaki bomb victim, inscribing the words “the fruit of war” above his signature.

The 1945 photo, captured by American photographer Joe O’Donnell, showed a small boy standing ramrod straight carrying his dead younger brother on his back while waiting for his turn at a cremation site.

The late pope John Paul II visited Japan in 1981, where at Hiroshima’s peace monument he pointed to war as “the work of man”.

In August, the city of Hiroshima called on Japan to sign the UN treaty calling for a ban on nuclear weapons, something that all the world’s nuclear powers have refused to do.

Japan, with its pacifist post-war constitution, adhered in 1967 to the principle of “not producing, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory,” despite counting on the US nuclear umbrella for protection.

Multiethnic Thailand

Before arriving in Thailand on Wednesday, the pope praised the “multiethnic nation” which “has worked to promote harmony and peaceful coexistence, not only among its habitants but throughout Southeast Asia.”

In a video message to the Thai people, the pope said he hoped to “strengthen ties of friendship” with Buddhists.

Since Francis’ election six years ago, he has made two trips to Asia, visiting the Philippines and Sri Lanka in 2014, followed by Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017.

On Thursday in Bangkok, the pontiff is to pay a visit to supreme patriarch Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong at a Buddhist temple.

 

AFP

Pope Calls For Dialogue In Lebanon Following Protests

 

Pope Francis urged dialogue in Lebanon Sunday after days of sweeping protests against the political class, urging the country to respect “dignity and freedom”.

Tension has mounted in recent days between security forces and protesters, who are blocking roads and bringing Lebanon to a standstill to press their demands for a complete overhaul of the political system.

“I would like to address a special thought to the dear Lebanese people, in particular to the young who… have made their cries heard in the face of the social and economic challenges and problems of the country,” Pope Francis said.

“I urge everyone to seek the right solutions in the way of dialogue,” he said after the Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square.

He said he hoped that “with the support of the international community, that country may continue to be a space for peaceful coexistence and respect for the dignity and freedom of every person, to benefit of the entire Middle East”.

The protesters — who have thronged Lebanese towns and cities since October 17 — are demanding the removal of the entire political class, accusing politicians of all stripes of systematic corruption.

Allow Married Men Be Priests, Bishops Beg Pope

Pope Francis (R), flanked by Italian priest Federico Lombardi, prays during the opening of a global child protection summit for reflections on the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church, on February 21, 2019 at the Vatican.  Vincenzo PINTO / POOL / AFP

 

Catholic bishops gathered at a special Vatican assembly called on Pope Francis Saturday to open the priesthood to married men in the Amazon, as well as giving women a greater role to play and making damaging the environment a sin.

The bishops issued a list of recommendations at the close of a three-week “synod” on the Pan-Amazonian region which highlighted challenges such as the destruction of the rainforest, the exploitation of indigenous peoples and a scarcity in priests.

The pontiff said Saturday he would addressing the issues before the year’s end.

The text could have repercussions not only for the vast, isolated territory, but the whole of the Roman Catholic Church.

The synod brought some 184 bishops to the Vatican, over 60 percent of whom hail from the nine Amazon countries.

Together with representatives of indigenous peoples, experts and nuns, they discussed a multitude of regional concerns, from climate change to poverty, land-grabbing, mercury-polluted waters and violence against women.

The most hotly-debated question was whether or not to allow “viri probati” — married “men of proven virtue” — to join the priesthood in remote locations, where communities seldom have Mass due to a lack of priests.

It would not be necessary to rewrite Church law; the bishops simply asked Francis for an exemption to the rules — like the one already granted to married Anglican pastors who later converted to Catholicism.

‘Ecological sin’ 

“Sometimes it takes not just months but even several years before a priest can return to a community to celebrate the Eucharist, offer the sacrament of reconciliation or anoint the sick,” the synod document said.

It suggested ordaining as priests “suitable and esteemed men of the community” who had “a legitimately constituted and stable family”.

But the ultra-conservative wing of the Catholic Church — particularly in Europe and North America — has spoken out strongly against the idea, warning that making exceptions could pave the way to the abolition of celibacy globally.

The bishops also urged the Argentine pope to make “the acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment” an “ecological sin” — or the breaking of a divine law.

It called for the Church to lead the battle against “our culture of excessive consumption”, saying “we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and the use of plastics”.

People should also change their eating habits and stop an “excess consumption of meat and fish/seafood”, they said.

They also proposed creating a “world fund” to protect the Amazon and its indigenous communities from “the predatory compulsion to extract their natural resources by national and multinational companies”.

‘Ministries for women’ 

The document also called for an official recognition by the Church of the key role played by lay women in the evangelisation of indigenous people by creating a formal specific role, or “ministry”, called “woman leadership of the community”.

There are some in the Church who would even like them to be allowed to become deacons, a function currently reserved for lay men.

Male deacons, who can be single or married, are able to baptise, witness marriages, perform funerals and preach homilies.

Francis said Saturday he would reconvene a commission to study the history of female deacons in the early Catholic Church, after the body’s initial report — delivered to the pontiff this year — was inconclusive.

Two thirds of the indigenous communities without priests are guided by women.

“We still have not grasped the significance of women in the Church. Their role must go well beyond questions of function,” Francis said.

AFP

Women Ask Pope Francis For Voting Rights

Pope Francis waves as he meets with bishops during the weekly general audience on October 23, 2019 at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

 

Catholic nuns taking part in a three-week Vatican assembly on the Amazon have urged Pope Francis to allow them to vote on the final document Saturday.

A green light from Francis would be a historic first. The Vatican has not publicly responded to the request, but an expert said it would be unusual for voting rules to be changed once the assembly, or “synod”, was under way.

Only “synod fathers” — bishops, cardinals and specially-appointed male representatives — are allowed to vote on the final document, which brings together a list of recommendations submitted to the pope.

Francis will take those recommendations into consideration when he draws up his own document in the coming months.

There are 184 bishops or cardinals with voting rights taking part — nearly two-thirds of whom come from the Pan-Amazon region, which covers nine Latin American countries.

The meeting, which ends Sunday, has also been attended by non-voting observers, auditors and experts, including 35 women.

Ecuadorian nun Ines Azucena Zambrano Jara said Friday a letter had been sent to the pontiff.

She told journalists at a press briefing that the women took an active part in the synod, with some of them defining themselves as “synod mothers”.

Specialized site Religion Digital said the 35 women had signed a petition calling for the right to vote.

The synod fathers will vote later Saturday on each paragraph in the document.

Francis bent the rules at a previous synod in 2018, allowing two lay men to vote in their capacity as superiors general of their religious orders.

There have been calls for the pontiff to extend the right to female superiors general.

AFP

Pope’s Bodyguard Resigns Over Scandal

Roman Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis

 

Pope Francis’ main bodyguard Domenico Giani, the Vatican’s security chief, resigned Monday over a leak to the media of details of a financial wrongdoing probe.

Francis accepted Giani’s resignation while noting he “bears no personal responsibility” for the leak, the Vatican said.

The Argentine pontiff was furious over the publication of an internal police notice which featured the photographs of five Vatican employees — including two senior figures — targeted in a probe reportedly into a real estate deal.

The notice, addressed to the Swiss guards and Vatican policemen who guard the gates of the tiny city state, said they had been suspended “as a precaution” while the investigation was carried out.

“This publication was prejudicial to the dignity of the people involved and to the image of the Gendarmerie (police),” said the Vatican, which has opened a probe into the leak.

Giani was dubbed the pope’s “guardian angel” by the media.

He served three pontiffs and could be seen on papal trips, dressed in a dark suit, standing close to the head of the Catholic Church or running beside the popemobile.

The 57-year old began his career in the Italian secret service, before joining the Vatican security forces 20 years ago and taking over as chief in 2006.

Vatican police earlier this month raided the offices of the Secretariat of State — the central governing office of the Catholic Church — and the Financial Information Authority (AIF), an independent anti-money laundering authority.

Prosecutors seized documents and electronic devices from the offices.

The five suspended included the number two at AIF and a monsignor in the Secretariat of State.

The Vatican had said the raids were linked to complaints presented by the Vatican bank and the Office of the Auditor General regarding financial transactions “carried out over time”.

The Italian Espresso magazine said the probe was into “real estate operations abroad,” notably in London.

Pope Francis Blames Amazon Fires On Destructive ‘Interests’

Pope Francis speaks as he celebrates a mass on October 6, 2019, at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, for the opening of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region. Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Pope Francis opened a synod on Sunday to champion the Amazon’s poverty-stricken and isolated indigenous communities by condemning the destructive “interests” he blamed for the fires that devastated the region.

The three-week synod, or assembly, is to unite 184 bishops, including 113 from the nine countries of the pan-Amazon region, including Brazil.

Brazil is home to 60 percent of the world’s largest rainforest, which is vital for the planet but is suffering from its worst outbreak of fires in years.

The fires, mostly caused by humans with the goal of clearing land for farming and cattle ranching, are having a grievous effect on the forest.

Representatives of indigenous peoples, some with their heads adorned with coloured feathers, also gathered in Saint Peter’s Square to hear the pope’s inaugural mass.

“The fire set by interests that destroy, like the fire that recently devastated Amazonia, is not the fire of the Gospel,” the pontiff said in his homily.

“The fire of God is warmth that attracts and gathers into unity. It is fed by sharing, not by profits.

“The fire that destroys, on the other hand, blazes up when people want to promote only their own ideas, form their own group, wipe out differences in the attempt to make everyone and everything uniform.”

‘Predatory and ecocidal development’

The working document for the synod denounced in scathing terms social injustices and crimes, including murders, and suggested a Church action plan.

“Listen to the cry of ‘Mother Earth’, assaulted and seriously wounded by the economic model of predatory and ecocidal development… which kills and plunders, destroys and devastates, expels and discards,” the 80-page document said.

The run-up to the synod saw some 260 events held in the Amazon region involving 80,000 people, in a bid to give the local populations a voice in the document.

Among those attending the synod as an observer was Sister Laura Vincuna, a missionary trying to protect the territories of the Caripuna indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Help us defend our motherland, we have no other home!” she said on Saturday.

“Earth, water, forest: without these three elements nobody can do anything”.

Jose Luiz Cassupe, a member of an indigenous community from Brazil’s Ronodia state, said the Brazilian government “did not keep its word”.

“We are asking the world for help because we are very worried about the new mining exploration policy in the Amazon,” he told AFP, wearing a headdress of indigo blue feathers.

The Amazon is suffering from its worst outbreak of fires in years. In this file photo taken on August 23, 2019, aerial picture showing a fire raging in the Amazon rainforest about 65 km from Porto Velho, in the state of Rondonia, in northern Brazil, on August 23, 2019. Carl DE SOUZA / AFP

 

‘New forms of colonialism’

Sunday’s gathering comes as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate-change sceptic, told the United Nations that the world’s media were lying about the Amazon, and attacked indigenous leaders as tools of foreign governments.

In his 2015 encyclical on ecology and climate change “Laudato Si”, Francis denounced the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest in the name of “enormous international economic interests”.

Last year, the world’s first Latin American pope visited Puerto Maldonado, a village in southeastern Peru surrounded by the Amazon jungle, to meet thousands of indigenous Peruvians, Brazilians and Bolivians.

That trip was the first step towards the synod which opened Sunday.

The pope in his homily also voiced regret that the Church had in the past promoted “colonisation rather than evangelisation”, but warned against “the greed of new forms of colonialism”.

Francis’ hopes of bringing the Catholic faith to far-flung populations will also see the bishops gathered in Rome debate a highly controversial proposal — allowing married men to become priests.

The issue deeply upsets some traditionalists, who argue that making an exception for the Amazon would open the door to the end of celibacy for priests, which is not a Church law and only dates back to the 11th century.

The German Catholic Church in particular, which has an influential progressive wing, has been hotly debating the subject.

The synod will also reflect on making official roles for women, who already play a central part in the Amazonian Church.

AFP

Pope Francis To Visit Thailand, Japan In November

Pope Francis attends the Festival of Families at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin on August 25, 2018, during his visit to Ireland.
Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Pope Francis will travel to Thailand in November, the Vatican said Friday, in a visit to Asia that will sweep in Japan and the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which were both decimated by atomic bombs in 1945.

It has been nearly four decades since a pontiff visited Thailand and Japan, both Buddhist-majority countries.

The late Pope John Paul II went to the largely Shinto Buddhist Japan in 1981, and he travelled to Thailand three years later where he met with the late King Rama IX and the Queen Mother.

The Vatican announced Friday the current pontiff will travel to Thailand from November 20-23, and then Japan to November 26.

In Bangkok, Pope Francis will “preside at religious ceremonies and pastoral visits to Catholic communities”, said a press statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand.

Read Also: 12 Drown In India During Religious Ceremony

Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, the Pope’s second cousin who runs a Catholic girls’ school in Thailand, told AFP she would be with Pope Francis during his Bangkok visit.

“This visit shows his desire to improve the dialogue to other religions to bring a message of peace,” she told AFP.

The four-day papal visit will coincide with the 350th anniversary of the founding of the “Mission de Siam”, which was first established by Pope Clement IX in 1669.

A-bomb sites

Today, the Christian community make up an estimated 1 per cent in Thailand, with the majority residing in the north and many within ethnic minority groups like the Jarai and the Akha.

The Vatican also provided more details of a visit to Japan, which was announced in January. The Pope had wanted to work in the country as a missionary in his youth but the plan was abandoned following a lung operation.

The Shinto Buddhist country is home to some 450,000 Catholics and 510,000 Protestants.

“During the latter visit, the Holy Father will visit Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima,” said the statement, adding that an official schedule will be provided on a later date.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were decimated after the US dropped atomic bombs at the end of Second World War in 1945.

More than 140,000 people were killed in Hiroshima, while the port city of Nagasaki suffered a death toll of 74,000 after the Americans dropped the atomic bombs.

The Pope has referenced the bombings in the past.

In January last year, he printed cards with a 1945 photo of victims of the Nagasaki bombing, inscribing the words “the fruit of war” in Italian on the card above his signature.

The photo, captured by American photographer Joe O’Donnell, showed a young boy standing ramrod straight carrying his dead younger brother on his back while waiting for his turn at a cremation site.

Since Pope Francis’ election five years ago, he has made two trips to Asia, visiting the Philippines and Sri Lanka in 2014, followed by Myanmar and Bangladesh last year.