Coptic Pope Defrocks US-Linked Priest Accused Of Paedophilia

The head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, at the Nativity of Christ Cathedral east of Cairo on January 6, 2018 (AFP Photo/KHALED DESOUKI)
The head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, at the Nativity of Christ Cathedral east of Cairo on January 6, 2018 (AFP Photo/KHALED DESOUKI)

 

 

Coptic Pope Tawadros II on Saturday urged Washington to no longer recognise a priest accused of paedophilia who had reportedly worked in the US as a member of his church.

“We notify all the civic authorities in Egypt and in the United States… to revoke any recognition of Yousef Aziz Khalil as a priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church,” the pope wrote in a statement posted on Facebook, without specifying Khalil’s current location.

The rare move comes amid a resurgence of the #MeToo movement in Egypt after a sex scandal implicating a member of the country’s wealthy elite.

Social media in the country and in the Egyptian diaspora have been flooded with thousands of testimonies of sexual assault.

Among them are Coptic Egyptians living in the United States who have accused Khalil, whose priestly name is Reweiss Aziz Khalil, of paedophilia and denounced the church for being slow to act.

The church had defrocked Khalil in 2014 for “repeated infringements that are unacceptable to the priesthood and its ministry”, the Coptic pope said in his statement, without elaborating.

Khalil, “is hereby laicised and must return to his former pre-ordination name”, the statement said.

“He is hereby stripped of his priestly rank.”

The largest Christian minority in the Middle East, Copts make up between 10 and 15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of over 100 million.

 

-AFP

Pope Reacts To Killing Of Floyd, Says Racism Is Intolerable

This photo taken and released on April 13, 2020, by the Vatican Media shows Pope Francis delivering his message during a private Angelus prayer live broadcast from the library of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on Easter Monday, during the lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP.

 

Pope Francis said on Wednesday “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism”, in reaction to the killing of a black man by US police that has sparked nationwide protests.

But the pontiff also condemned the violence that followed George Floyd’s death in the city of Minneapolis last week as “self-destructive and self-defeating”.

“Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost,” Francis said.

Floyd, 46, an unarmed African-American man, suffocated as a white police officer kneeled on his neck, sparking once-in-a-generation demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality.

The pope said he was praying for Floyd and “all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism”.

READ ALSO: UK PM Johnson Condemns George Floyd killing, Calls For ‘Lawful’ Protests

Protests have been held in cities across the country, mostly peaceful but many descending into mayhem.

Both activists and officials have blamed rabble-rousers for the trouble and thousands of people have been arrested.

AFP

Pope Accepts Resignation Of French Cardinal

 

The Pope has accepted the resignation of French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, whose conviction for shielding an alleged child-molesting priest was overturned on appeal last month, the Catholic Church in Lyon said Friday.

Barbarin, who will now step down as Archbishop of Lyon, was given a six-month suspended jail sentence last March for not reporting a priest in his diocese who had allegedly abused dozens of boy scouts in the 1980s and 1990s.

Last month, appeals judges said Barbarin should have reported the priest, but could not be held criminally liable for his failure.

Pope Francis Apologizes For Slapping ‘Exuberant Admirer’ At Saint Peter’s Plaza

 

Pope Francis apologised Wednesday for his widely-viewed slap of a woman who had grabbed his hand as he greeted Catholic faithful on New Year’s Eve.

The image of Francis slapping his way free from the clutches of the admirer was an instant hit on social media.

A personal apology followed.

“We lose patience many times,” Francis confessed.

“It happens to me too. I apologise for the bad example given yesterday,” the head of the Catholic church said before celebrating Mass at the Vatican.

Twitter enthusiasts commented with abandon on the pontiff’s prompt riposte to the woman.

Francis had greeted children before the Nativity scene on Saint Peter’s square and was turning away when the woman who had crossed herself then cried out something, pulled on his hand and almost caused him to fall.

The 83-year-old pope grimaced before managing to break free by slapping her hand twice.

He continued his tour, walking with some difficulty while maintaining a slightly greater distance from visitors, and gradually relaxed again as he came into contact with other children.

Twitter comments were mostly supportive of the pontiff’s instinctive reaction.

“HE IS HUMAN.. Been (sic) a Pope doesn’t make you immune to Pain or avoid Reaction to pain,” one typical comment read.

In his first Mass of the New Year, the pontiff later denounced “all violence against women” as “a profanation of God, born of a woman.”

Francis also said women were “the source of life” but deplored that they were constantly “offended, beaten, abused and forced into prostitution” and forced to “supress the life they carry within” them.

He emphasised that the “rebirth of humanity began with a woman,” and bemoaned that women’s bodies were “sacrificed on the profane altars of advertising, profit, pornography.”

Pope Slaps ‘Exuberant Admirer’ At Saint Peter’s Plaza

Pope Francis (L) celebrates the New Year’s day mass on January 1, 2020 in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

 

An image of Pope Francis slapping his way free from the clutches of an admirer late Tuesday had social media abuzz with comments on the pontiff’s prompt riposte.

Francis had greeted children before the Nativity scene on Saint Peter’s plaza and was turning away when the woman cried out something, grabbed his hand and almost caused him to fall.

The 83-year-old head of the Catholic church grimaced before managing to break free by slapping the woman’s hand twice.

He then continued his tour, walking with some difficulty while maintaining a slightly greater distance from visitors, and gradually relaxed again as he came into contact with other children.

Comments on Twitter were mostly supportive of the pontiff’s instinctive reaction.

READ ALSO: Nine Dead After Indonesian Capital Hit By New Year Flooding

“HE IS HUMAN.. Been (sic) a Pope doesn’t make you immune to Pain or avoid Reaction to pain,” one typical comment read.

In his first Mass of the New Year, the pontiff nonetheless denounced Wednesday “all violence against women” as “a profanation of God, born of a woman,” a position underscored by several Twitter enthusiasts.

Another concluded that as 2020 dawned, “the pope is trending.”

I ‘lost patience’ with exuberant admirer

Pope Francis confessed Wednesday he had “lost patience” with an exuberant admirer who had grabbed his hand on Saint Peter’s Square, prompting a swift pair of slaps.

“We lose patience many times. It happens to me too. I apologise for the bad example given yesterday,” the head of the Catholic church said before celebrating Mass at the Vatican.

AFP

Pope Calls For Peace In Global Flashpoints

Pope Francis waves 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 the Vatican. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

 

 

Christmas was celebrated all around the world on Wednesday, with Pope Francis appealing for peace in many of the world’s hotspots while festivities were muted for Filipinos battered by a typhoon, as well as in strike-bound France.

“May Christ bring his light to the many children suffering from war and conflicts in the Middle East and in various countries of the world,” Francis said in his traditional Christmas message at the Vatican, singling out the crises in Venezuela and Lebanon, as well as armed conflicts ravaging many African countries.

For her part, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II used her Christmas Day message to pay tribute to young environmental campaigners who were inspired to global action by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg.

She also described 2019 as “quite bumpy” after a year of crises in the royal family. The queen attended the annual Christmas Day service in Sandringham without her ailing husband Prince Philip, 98, who was released from hospital after a four-night stay for an unspecified illness.

But she was accompanied by Prince Andrew, her scandal-plagued second son, whose disastrous attempts to distance himself from American convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s victims have backfired. The prince gave up his public duties last month.

Earlier Wednesday, Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby sent wishes of “peace and prosperity” to South Sudan as negotiations faltered between the African country’s government and rebels.

The spiritual leaders of more than 1.3 billion Christians said they were praying “for a renewed commitment to the path of reconciliation and fraternity” in the world’s newest nation.

Typhoon Phanfone meanwhile brought a wet, miserable and terrifying holiday season to the central Philippines, stranding tens of thousands of people.

In France, Christmas was also a gloomy affair as a crippling transport strike against pension reform was set to enter its fourth week, ruining the plans of many to gather with family and friends.

Things were more upbeat in Spain, where nearly 300 people, some in Santa Claus, Darth Vader or clown costumes, dived into the frigid waters of Barcelona’s port for a traditional Christmas swim.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania sent their “warmest greetings” to Christmas revellers around the world.

“While the challenges that face our country are great, the bonds that unite us as Americans are much stronger,” the message read. “Together, we must strive to foster a culture of deeper understanding and respect.”

Also in the United States, a bank robber brought some offbeat Christmas joy to stunned passers-by in Colorado, police confirmed Wednesday.

The white-bearded man robbed the bank in Colorado Springs on Monday, then threw the stolen cash in the air for people to grab, US media reported.

“He started throwing money out of the bag and then said, ‘Merry Christmas!’,” witness Dion Pascale told local media. The suspect was later arrested.

In the biblical town of Bethlehem on Tuesday, a few hundred worshippers gathered in the church on the site of Jesus’s birth for midnight mass, attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

This year, celebrations were bolstered by the return of a wooden relic believed to be from Jesus’s manger.

Sent as a gift to Pope Theodore I in 640, the piece had been in Europe for more than 1,300 years before being returned last month.

– Hong Kong flashmobs –

Hong Kong’s Christmas celebrations were marred by sporadic clashes between police and pro-democracy activists as the city’s pro-Beijing leader said the festive season was being “ruined” by demonstrators.

Police used pepper spray and tear gas as activists held small flashmob protests in malls and multiple districts across the city.

Tuesday night, Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, ravaged by fire in April, was unable to hold its traditional Christmas Eve mass for the first time in more than 200 years, with the faithful gathering at other nearby churches instead.

After another midnight mass in France, 21 worshippers were hospitalised with carbon monoxide poisoning possibly caused by a faulty gas heater.

Emergency personnel were sent to the church in the Oise department in the north of the country after several people complained of headaches during the service.

Pope Ushers In Christmas With Message Of ‘Unconditional Love’

Pope Francis leads a Christmas Eve mass in St Peter’s Basilica to mark the nativity of Jesus Christ on December 24, 2019, at the Vatican. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

 

 

Pope Francis ushered in Christmas on Wednesday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics with a message of unconditional love, saying “God continues to love us all, even the worst of us”.

“You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you,” the pontiff told crowds gathered at the Vatican for his Christmas Eve midnight mass.

The Argentinian also emphasized “unconditional” love, in a year that has seen the Pope move to combat silence surrounding paedophilia in the Roman Catholic church, which has been rocked by thousands of reports of sexual abuse by priests around the world and accusations of cover-ups by senior clergy.

Earlier this month, he removed a Pontifical secrecy rule, which critics said prevented priests and victims from reporting abuse, and in May passed a landmark measure to oblige those who know about sex abuse to report it to their superiors.

Francis will at noon on Wednesday give the traditional Christmas Day mass — his seventh — addressed to the world in front of St Peter’s Square.

Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians and foreigners converged in the biblical town of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

A few hundred worshippers gathered in the church on the site of Jesus’s birth for midnight mass, attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. Hundreds more gathered outside, watching on screens in the crisp air.

– ‘Special greetings’ to Gaza –

But fewer Christians from the Gaza Strip were in attendance than in previous years, as Israel had granted permits to just around 300 of some 900 people who applied, said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land.

At midnight bells rang out throughout the town, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, led hymns and said prayers.

“At Christmas all the world looks to us, to Bethlehem,” he said.

“Special greetings to our brothers and sisters in Gaza, with whom I celebrated Christmas two days ago,” he added.

Pizzaballa, who had to cross Israel’s separation barrier to get from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, said after his arrival that it was a difficult time but there was reason for hope.

“We see in this period the weakness of politics, enormous economic problems, unemployment, problems in families,” he said.

“On the other side, when I visit families, parishes, communities, I see a lot of commitment… for the future. Christmas is for us to celebrate the hope.”

Earlier on Christmas Eve, a few thousand people watched in the winter sun as Palestinian scouts paraded in front of a giant Christmas tree.

“The church is beautiful and it puts what we know in the Bible (in) place,” said Laneda, an American tourist visiting the site. “Everything is just very meaningful.”

French Catholics endured a sad moment as Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was unable to hold Christmas Eve Mass for the first time since 1803 — after a fire ravaged its structure in April.

In the Philippines, a majority Catholic country, typhoon Phanfone brought a wet and miserable Christmas Day to millions, many of them stranded at shuttered ports or evacuation centres.

AFP

Church Is Losing Influence, Pope Warns

 

 

Pope Francis on Saturday called on church leaders for a “change in mentality”, saying the Christian faith is less heeded — even ignored — in the modern world. 

New methods were needed to help “reposition our ways of thinking and our attitudes”, the pope warned in his traditional Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s top administrative body.

“We are no longer the only ones today to produce culture, neither the first nor the most listened to,” the Argentinian pontiff said.

“We are no longer in a regime of Christianity because faith — especially in Europe, but also in a large part of the West — is no longer an obvious presupposition of living together; worse, it is often denied, mocked, marginalised and ridiculed.”

The change requires “a change in pastoral mentality,” said the Jesuit pope, the first from Latin America in the history of the Catholic Church.

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has sought to shake up the powerful and conservative Curia. But he has continued to be met by resistance from many members of the body who reject greater control over their freedom and finances.

In previous Christmas greetings, Francis has taken a harsher tone against the cardinals and bishops within the Curia, calling out “cliques” and “traitors” within the bureaucracy.

Francis has created new “dicasteries,” or ministries, such as in communication, to better respond to a more digitised culture and try to break down the silos between different departments.

In his speech on Saturday, Francis also warned against “the temptation to fall back on the past” instead of “engaging in significant changes”.

Such “rigidity,” he said, “arises from the fear of change that ends up spreading stakes and obstacles in the land of common good, transforming it into a landmine of incommunicability and hate”

AFP

Pope Slams Nuclear Deterrent, ‘Unspeakable Horror’ Of Nagasaki

Pope Francis attends a ceremony at the Peace Memorial Park during his visit to the Japanese city of Hiroshima on November 24, 2019. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

 

Pope Francis Sunday railed against atomic weapons, the nuclear deterrent, and the growing arms trade, as he paid tribute to the victims of the “unspeakable horror” of the Nagasaki bomb.

In a highly symbolic visit to the Japanese city devastated by the nuclear attack in August 1945, Francis said nuclear weapons were “not the answer” to a desire for security, peace, and stability.

“Indeed they seem always to thwart it,” he said.

At least 74,000 people died from the atomic bomb unleashed on the city in western Japan — just three days after the world’s first nuclear attack hit Hiroshima and killed at least 140,000.

“This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another,” said the sombre pontiff on the first full day of his Japan trip.

Hundreds of people in white waterproofs sat in torrential rain to hear the pope’s speech, next to the emblematic photo of a young boy carrying his dead baby brother on his back in the aftermath of the attack.

He laid a wreath of white flowers and prayed silently, unprotected from the lashing downpour.

‘Die like a human’

Francis took aim at what he called the “perverse dichotomy” of nuclear deterrence, saying that peace is incompatible with the “fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation.”

This marked a break with past pontiffs — in a 1982 UN speech, Pope John Paul II had described nuclear deterrence as a necessary evil.

The 82-year-old Francis also hit out at the “money that is squandered and the fortune made” in the arms trade, describing it as an “affront crying out to Heaven” in a world where “millions of children are living in inhumane conditions.”

Later Sunday, Francis will visit Hiroshima and meet survivors of the atomic attack, known in Japanese as hibakusha, at the world-famous Peace Memorial in the city synonymous with the horror of nuclear war.

Two survivors of Nagasaki, 89-year-old Shigemi Fukahori and 85-year-old Sakue Shimohira, handed the wreath to the pope.

Fukahori, a Catholic, has prayed every day for those killed and their bereaved families.

“My heart is just full of overflowing feelings,” he said. “Just meeting him is enough. I’m so glad and speechless.”

Shimohira, who was 10 at the time of the attack, conveyed the terror of the bomb.

“My mother and older sister were killed, charred. Even if you survived, you couldn’t live like a human or die like a human… It’s the horror of nuclear weapons,” she said.

At a Mass at a baseball stadium in Nagasaki with worshippers now shielding their eyes from the sun, Francis said the city “bears in its soul a wound difficult to heal” and warned that “a third World War is being waged piecemeal.”

‘Fondness and affection’

The Argentine pontiff is fulfilling a long-held ambition to preach in Japan — a country he wanted to visit as a young missionary.

“Ever since I was young I have felt a fondness and affection for these lands,” said Francis when he arrived in Japan.

Like in Thailand, the first leg of his Asian tour, Catholicism is a minority religion in Japan.

Most people follow a mix of Shinto and Buddhism, with only an estimated 440,000 Catholics in the country.

Christians in Japan suffered centuries of repression, being tortured to recant their faith, and Francis paid tribute to the martyrs who died for their religion.

Alongside its nuclear history, Nagasaki is also a key city in Christian history where so-called “Hidden Christians” were discovered after keeping the faith alive in secret for 200 years while Japan was closed to the world.

The pope said in Nagasaki that as a “young Jesuit from the ‘ends of the earth'” he had found “powerful inspiration in the story of the early missionaries and the Japanese martyrs.”

Francis returns to Tokyo on Sunday night where he will on Monday meet victims of Japan’s “triple disaster” — the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.

He is also scheduled to deliver a Mass at a Tokyo baseball stadium, meet Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito and hold talks with Japanese government officials and local Catholic leaders.

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

Pope Pleads With Madagascans To Protect Rainforest

Pope Francis greets crowd as he arrives at the St. Michel complex in Antananarivo in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on September 8, 2019. MARCO LONGARI / AFP

 

Pope Francis on Saturday made an impassioned plea to Madagascans to protect the Indian Ocean’s unique environment from “excessive deforestation”, on the second leg of his African tour.

Weeks after a spike of fires in the Amazon, the Argentine pontiff told his hosts they should “create jobs and money-making activities which respect the environment and help people escape poverty”.

Madagascar — famed for its immense diversity of flora and fauna — is home to 25 million people, the vast majority of whom live in poverty on an income of less than two dollars a day.

More than half of its young people are out of work, even if many boast good qualifications.

The pope said there “were many causes driving excessive deforestation which benefits just a few people… and compromises the future of the country.”

The authorities should also ensure social justice, he added.

‘Alarm raised’

Madagascar’s British ambassador Philip Boyle told AFP the country loses around 200,000 hectares of forest each year, adding that “most of the tropical rainforest could disappear by 2040”.

he country’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture, the export of vanilla and cocoa in particular.

“The alarm has been raised by the pope and we are ready to take on the challenge,” environment minister Alexandre Georget told AFP.

He said Madagascar would do more to prevent forest fires, and use tree-planting drones and aerial seed bombing techniques to restore its forests.

“In six months we reached an objective of planting 40,000 hectares of land (98,000 acres), but this is pointless when there are forest fires” said Georget, adding that laws would be enforced and farmers made more aware of the issue.

Liberal-leaning president Andry Rajoelina was elected to a second term last year mainly on promises of jobs and housing.

“Corruption and inequality outrage us,” said Archbishop Desire Tsarahazana, addressing the pope in his welcome speech.

Hope for the young

At Antananarivo’s Soamandrakizay stadium, thousands of young people – mainly scouts – gathered for a vigil. They waited for hours in the heat.

“I am here to ask for the pope’s blessing to face the harsh realities of life, insecurity, poverty and corruption,” said 17-year old student Njara Raherimana, who travelled hundreds of kilometres for the event.

“All this gives me hope for change in my country,” echoed fellow student, Antony Christian Tovonalintsoa, who lives in the outskirts of the capital.

During the vigil, Pope Francis lauded the “joy and enthusiasm” of the singing crowd.

He encouraged the youth not to fall into “bitterness” or to lose hope, even when they lacked the “necessary minimum” to get by and when “educational opportunities were insufficient”

800,000 faithful expected

Sunday will mark the high point of Francis’ visit with a huge mass in the capital expected to be attended by some 800,000 faithful.

Many had already started setting up tents on the outskirts of the city on Friday, armed with posters of the Argentine pontiff.

Prospere Ralitason, a 70-year-old farm worker, arrived with some 5,000 fellow pilgrims from the central eastern town of Ambatondrazaka, 200 kilometres (125 miles) away.

“We are tired, but it’s worth making all these sacrifices to see the pope with our own eyes and receive his blessing,” he told AFP,

John Paul II

The last pope to visit was John Paul II 30 years ago.

“I was a lieutenant when I helped with the security of John Paul II in 1989. Today I am a divisional general and overseeing security for Francis’ visit to Madagascar,” said Samuel Rakotomalala.

Some 700 police officers will be deployed at the site, which is also equipped with 200 surveillance cameras and the 12,000 young scouts will also help out.

In June, 16 people were killed and dozens hurt in a stampede outside a sports stadium in the capital during a free concert.

Francis visited Mozambique earlier in the week. He is also due to travel to the island of Mauritius, which like Madagascar is situated off the eastern coast of Africa.

Pope Francis In Mozambique Seeks To Strengthen Peace Accord

A girl celebrates after Pope Francis blessed her rosary during the Interreligious meeting with the Youth at the Maxaquene Pavillion in Maputo, on September 5, 2019. TIZIANA FABI / AFP

 

After a jubilant arrival in Mozambique at the start a three-nation African tour, Pope Francis on Thursday will meet with political and civil leaders to encourage them to consolidate a fragile peace accord.

The pope’s three-day visit to Mozambique comes a month after the government signed a historic peace treaty with the former rebel group Renamo, which is now the main opposition party.

Mozambique’s 16-year civil war devastated the former Portuguese colony, killing around one million people, and Renamo had never completely disarmed.

Francis, the first pope to visit Mozambique since John Paul II in 1988, was whisked away in his popemobile after arriving on Wednesday as crowds waved and danced in welcome.

He starts Thursday with a private meeting with President Filipe Nyusi, who wants to run for a second term in an election scheduled for October 15. The two men had already met one year ago at the Vatican.

As well as discussing the peace agreement, Francis is expected to address the devastation caused by two back-to-back cyclones earlier this year in the poor southeast African country.

He will not travel to Beira, the second city of the country swept away in March by Cyclone Idai, which left 600 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

Even six months on, many people are without shelter and food.

“Even if I can not go beyond the capital, my heart is with you and embraces you all, with a special place for those who live in difficulty,” he said to the victims of the cyclone, before his trip.

‘Pope of the Poor’

On Friday, the pope will address a mass at the giant Zimpeto stadium in the seaside capital Maputo.

The pope may also address the issue of extremism in northern Mozambique where jihadist attacks have claimed more than 300 lives over two years.

Francis could also speak about climate change, a key topic for the pontiff who has organised in a global meeting of bishops in Rome dedicated to the Amazon, which has been hit by devastating fires.

According to the World Bank, Mozambique, with its more than 2,000 km of coastline along the Indian Ocean, is among the ten most threatened countries in the world due to the consequences of climate change.

The pope will later visit the large Indian Ocean island of Madagascar and its much smaller neighbour Mauritius — both situated off the eastern coast of Africa.

Mozambique and Madagascar are among the world’s poorest countries and Francis’ choice to visit has been seen as act of solidarity from a cleric who was often in shantytowns of Argentina and is now called the “pope of the poor”.