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« Reply #330 on: Nov 29, 2014, 06:44 AM »

Pope Becomes First House Guest in Controversial Erdogan Palace

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 November 2014, 19:33

The vast gates swung open and the host personally welcomed his distinguished visitor with all the pride of someone who has just acquired a new home.

Pope Francis on Friday become the first foreign dignitary to be received at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's new presidential palace, one of the most controversial building projects in modern Turkey.

While the palace, dubbed Aksaray (White Palace) by the press but known officially simply as Presidential Palace, has been used in the last weeks for the occasional meeting and reception, the pope's visit marked its true unveiling to the world.

Smiling broadly, Erdogan strode out to the gates to greet the pope and then guided him through the honor guard lined up on the vast grounds in front the building.

The visit marked a first chance for much of the Ankara press corps to visit the much-talked-about but hard-to-access palace.

Some 250 reporters were accredited, shepherded by security personnel who seemed, at times, to still be finding their own way round.

Erdogan and the pope delivered press statements in a vast auditorium that appears capable of hosting a symphony orchestra as much as news conferences.

There had been calls on the pope not to visit the palace. But the Vatican made clear it had no intention of entering into a polemic and the pope would go where the hosting side invited him.

The complex takes up an area of 200,000 square meters (2.1 million square feet), has 1,000 rooms and draws its architectural inspiration from Turkey's Ottoman and Seljuk heritage.

The cost amounts to a cool 1.37 billion Turkish lira ($615 million). However it is smaller than the pope's walled Vatican City State which is 440,000 square meters.

It is marked by columns, atriums, countless meeting rooms and the vast front esplanade reminiscent of a square in front of a grand mosque.

It is decorated with the rich geometric patterns so important in Islamic art, where images of living things are generally proscribed.

However in a sign that it is still not entirely finished, an AFP reporter saw that building works were still in progress and it appeared that there had been a hurry to ensure it was ready for the papal visit.

For the opposition, the palace is more evidence of the willingness of Erdogan and the Islamic-rooted ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to ride roughshod over the legacy of modern Turkey's secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Ataturk set aside the land on which the new palace was built as a farm. He himself worked -- like all Turkish presidents until now -- in the far more modest Cankaya presidential palace in downtown Ankara.

The opposition has compared the new palace to the notorious Palace of the People of deposed Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and even suggested the money could have been better spent on sending a probe to Mars.

The Romanian tyrant’s gigantic Casa Poporului (Palace of the People) was still unfinished when he and his wife were shot dead by firing squad in the revolution of 1989.

In another element of controversy, the new palace was originally intended to replace the cramped offices of the prime minister in Ankara but then was transferred to the presidency when Erdogan himself switched from the post of premier in August.

Erdogan has repeatedly defended the palace, describing it as a "work of art" essential to present the face of a modern and fast-developing Turkey to the world.

Source: Agence France Presse


Fight fundamentalism by tackling poverty, urges Pope Francis

Pontiff calls for greater tolerance on visit to Turkey’s President Erdoğan, who has been criticised for authoritarian policies

Constanze Letsch in Istanbul and agencies
The Guardian, Friday 28 November 2014 19.40 GMT   

Pope Francis has called for more religious tolerance and for fundamentalism to be tackled by relieving hunger, poverty and marginalisation, rather than by military interventions alone.

Speaking in the vast auditorium of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s palace in Ankara, he lauded Turkey for hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees, and reminded the international community of their “moral obligation” to help care for the almost 2 million Syrians currently living within Turkish borders.

The fourth pope to visit the largely Muslim country, Francis highlighted his commitment to dialogue with Muslims and other Christians at a time of increased violence against Christian and other minorities in the region, especially in Turkey’s neighbours Syria and Iraq, where Islamic State (Isis) militants have brutally persecuted Yazidis, Shia Muslims, Christians and others who do not agree with their radical interpretation of Sunni Islam. Many of the Iraqi and Syrian Christians who have fled their homes to escape the spread of Isis are currently living as refugees in Turkey.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Erdoğan, the pontiff underlined that it was “licit, while always respecting international law, to stop an unjust aggressor”, but added that military intervention would not bring sustainable peace to the region.

“What is required is a concerted commitment on the part of all, based on mutual trust, which can pave the way to lasting peace, and enable resources to be directed, not to weaponry, but to the other noble battles worthy of man: the fight against hunger and sickness, the promotion of sustainable development and the protection of creation, and the relief of the many forms of poverty and marginalisation, of which there is no shortage in the world today,” the pope said.

The 77-year-old Argentinian pontiff, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, delivered his address from the lavish new presidential palace, one of the most controversial building projects in modern Turkey. The complex covers 200,000 sq metres (2.1m sq feet) and has 1,000 rooms. The cost of the project ran to 1.37bn Turkish lira (£385m).

Francis – who has made austerity a trademark of his papacy – refuses to live in the apostolic palace in the Vatican City, preferring a modest guesthouse where he eats with other residents.

Alongside Erdoğan, the pope called for more religious tolerance and the right to freedom of expression. Critics have said that these traits are scarce in increasingly authoritarian Turkey, where 99% of the population are Muslim.

“It is essential that all citizens – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties,” Francis said. “Freedom of religion and freedom of expression, when truly guaranteed to each person, will help friendship to flourish and thus become an eloquent sign of peace.”

While stressing that he and his papal visitor “agreed on most things”, Erdogan criticised “Islamophobia and racism in the west”. Arguing that terrorist organisations such as Isis, Boko Haram and al-Qaida were able to rally people to their cause due to international policy failures, he expressed dismay about the “world’s double standards” regarding the crimes of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Israel and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has recently made headlines fighting an Islamic State attack in the Syrian town of Kobani.

The pope repeated his call for tolerance when speaking at Turkey’s directorate for religious affairs, or Diyanet, in a joint meeting with Mehmet Görmez, the country’s most senior cleric.

Görmez agreed, underlining that Islam was “a religion of peace”: “Those who speak on behalf of God, such as fundamentalists, are part of the problem,” he said, adding that terrorism was “a rebellion against God, and as Muslims we reject this extremism and bloodshed”.

Pope Francis will travel to Istanbul on Saturday where he will meet the ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew I, the pre-eminent spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.

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« Reply #331 on: Nov 29, 2014, 08:00 AM »

Pope Francis: We must condemn those who use religion to violate human rights

International Business Times
29 Nov 2014 at 08:54 ET     

Pope Francis, on the first day of his three-day trip to Turkey, condemned the “barbaric violence” committed by the Islamic State group, or ISIS, against religious minorities in Syria, and said that military action against the group was justified. Francis also urged greater interfaith dialogue to combat extremism during a speech at the presidential palace in the capital city of Ankara, according to media reports.

“As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights… As such, any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation because the Omnipotent is the God of life and peace,” he reportedly said, addressing Turkish religious officials at the country’s Religious Affairs Directorate on Friday. “Especially tragic is the situation in the Middle East, above all in Iraq and Syria.”

Francis reiterated concerns voiced earlier by the Vatican over the expulsion and executions of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, including thousands of Christians who, he reportedly said, “have been forcibly evicted from their homes, having to leave behind everything to save their lives and preserve their faith.”

“Grave persecutions have taken place in the past and still continue today to the detriment of minorities, especially -- though not only -- Christians and Yazidis,” Francis reportedly said.

In his first visit to the predominantly Muslim nation, Francis also urged greater “inter-religious and intercultural dialogue” to counter extremism, and said that the crisis in the Middle East could not be resolved by military action alone, according to media reports.

“Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears, which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers,” Francis reportedly said, during a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “This solidarity must rest on the following pillars: respect for human life and for religious freedom, that is the freedom to worship and to live according to the moral teachings of one’s religion; commitment to ensuring what each person requires for a dignified life; and care for the natural environment.”

The pope also praised Turkey’s efforts in sheltering nearly 1.6 million refugees, who have fled the advance of ISIS in Syria, and said that the international community had a “moral obligation” to assist Turkey in taking care of the refugees.

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« Reply #332 on: Nov 30, 2014, 09:08 AM »

Pope Francis pledges support for ‘suffering’ Christians in the Middle East

Agence France-Presse
30 Nov 2014 at 09:20 ET     

Pope Francis and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on Sunday made a joint pledge to support Christians in the Middle East, saying they could not let Christianity be driven out of the region.

“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years,” the two Church leaders said in a joint declaration.

Referring to the rampage of violence by Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Iraq and Syria, they warned that Christians in the region were being persecuted and forced from their homes.

“The terrible situation of Christians and all those who are suffering in the Middle East calls not only for our constant prayer, but also for an appropriate response on the part of the international community,” they added.

The two church leaders also called for “a constructive dialogue with Islam based on mutual respect and friendship.”

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« Reply #333 on: Nov 30, 2014, 09:19 AM »

Pope Francis prays alongside Grand Mufti in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque

Pope treads carefully in footsteps of predecessor in ‘moment of silent adoration’ to mark religious cooperation during Turkey visit

Constanze Letsch   
The Observer, Saturday 29 November 2014 20.07 GMT   
In a gesture designed to highlight his commitment to inter-faith dialogue, Pope Francis conducted a silent prayer alongside a senior Islamic cleric in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque on Saturday. Facing Mecca, Francis bowed his head in prayer for several minutes while standing next to Istanbul’s Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran. The Vatican described the gesture as a “moment of silent adoration” of God.

Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict, caused dismay among many conservative Catholics and some Muslims when he appeared to pray in the same mosque on his visit to Turkey eight years ago. The Vatican felt compelled to publish a statement saying that Benedict had merely been in meditation, though he later acknowledged that he “certainly turned his thoughts to God”.

Francis then paid a visit to the Hagia Sophia, the most important cathedral of Orthodoxy for almost 1,000 years. The basilica was turned into an imperial mosque under the Ottomans when they conquered the city in 1453, and converted into a museum after the foundation of the Turkish republic in 1923.

His visit was followed by a papal mass in the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, which the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said alongside Bartholomew I, head of the 300 million Orthodox believers worldwide.

At the entrance to the church, Turks and foreigners alike strained to catch a glimpse of the pope as he emerged after the mass. One Argentinian TV assistant director, who came to visit his Turkish girlfriend in Istanbul, said he was surprised and excited about the possibility to see the pope. “This is the first stop for me, I came straight from the airport,” he said.

Garbis Atmaca, 72, an Armenian jeweller from Istanbul, said he had high hopes for the pope’s visit. “It is very good that he came,” Atmaca said. “His visit will have a good impact on the Islamic world. It will help foster understanding and peace.”

The mixed Christian community in Turkey is very small, estimated at about 80,000 in a country of 75 million, and only the few Roman Catholics and Chaldeans regard the pope as their spiritual leader. Atmaca, who belongs to the Gregorian-Armenian church in Istanbul, said that he nevertheless holds the current pontiff in high regard. “He is a very modest man, the best pope we ever had.”

Three Austrian nuns who attended the mass said that they had never seen as much cheering for a pope. “We came to see Pope Benedict eight years ago,” one of them said. “But we have never seen anything like this.”

Francis’s visit comes at a time of extreme hardship for the dwindling Christian communities in the region, especially in neighbouring Syria and Iraq where Islamic State (Isis) militants have captured large swathes of land and persecuted Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others who do not agree with their radical interpretation of Sunni Islam. Many of those fleeing the violence currently live as refugees in Turkey.

The 77-year-old Argentinian pontiff urged that fundamentalism be fought not through military interventions, but by eradicating poverty, hunger and marginalisation around the world.

“Both [the pope and Bartholomew] are deeply concerned about the brutal treatment and expulsion of Christians from their homes in the region, which has historically been the cradle of Christianity,” John Chryssavgis, theological adviser at the Patriarch of Constantinople, said.

Some fear that increased authoritarianism, nationalism and President Erdogan’s constant focus on Sunni Muslim identity might lead to more pressure on minorities in Turkey, too; others believe the situation has started to improve for Christian minorities during the 12 years of Islamic Justice and Development party government.

“Things are good now, better than before certainly,” Atmaca said. “I think the Islamist rhetoric [of the government] is mostly show.”

Others feel there has been stagnation. “Things will likely not get worse under the AKP,” said Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a human rights lawyer and expert on minority rights. “But they will not get better either. The Christians in Turkey should stand up for their rights and make more demands.”

Speaking at the presidential palace on Saturday, Francis underlined the importance of religious freedom for everyone. “It is essential that all citizens – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties,” he said in a joint press conference with Erdogan.

Later on Saturday, Bartholomew I, with whom the pope shares close personal ties, is to receive Francis at the ecumenical patriarchate.

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« Reply #334 on: Dec 01, 2014, 06:48 AM »

Pope Calls on Muslim Leaders to Condemn Islamist Terror

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 November 2014, 21:54

Pope Francis on Sunday urged Muslim leaders worldwide to "clearly" condemn terrorism carried out in the name of Islam.

In a press briefing on board the plane carrying him back to Rome after a three-day visit to Turkey, Francis responded to a question about the Islamic State and other jihadist groups by repeating what he said he had told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a private meeting on Friday.

"I told him it would be wonderful if all the Muslim leaders of the world -- political, religious and academic, spoke up clearly and condemned" the violence which damages Islam, the pontiff said.

"That would help the majority of Muslims if that came from the mouths of these political, religious and academic leaders. We all have need of a global condemnation," he added.

The pope went on to acknowledge that current global crises had generated a danger of all Muslims being tarred with the same brush.

"It is true that in the face of the acts being committed not only in this region (Iraq, Syria) but also in Africa, there is a certain reaction of repulsion: as if that is what Islam is.

"I get angry. So many Muslims are offended and say 'we are not these people, the Koran is a work of peace."

The pope attacked those who say "all Muslims are terrorists," adding: "As we cannot say that all Christians are fundamentalists."

The Argentinian leader of the world's Catholics also denounced what he termed the current wave of "Christianophobia" in the Middle East, accusing Islamist radicals of "hunting" Christians while certain officials acted as if "they did not want any left in these countries." The pontiff did not specify which countries he was referring to.

Source: Agence France Presse

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« Reply #335 on: Dec 04, 2014, 07:07 AM »

Pope Francis removes Swiss Guard chief

Pontiff is said to have dismissed commander Daniel Anrig after becoming unhappy with order’s gruelling shifts and strict rules

Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome
The Guardian, Wednesday 3 December 2014 15.31 GMT  

The commander of the Swiss Guard at the Vatican has been removed from his post, apparently as a result of Pope Francis’s unease at the security chief’s militaristic style.

The surprise news that Daniel Anrig, who had a reputation for being rigid and “teutonic”, would step down was contained in a four-line notice on L’Osservatore Romano, the Holy See’s daily newspaper.

The 42-year-old father of four was appointed by Pope Benedict in 2008 and his five-year contract had been extended indefinitely.

“The holy father has ordered that Colonel Daniel Rudolf Anrig end his term on 31 January, at the conclusion of the extension of his mandate,” the notice said. The Vatican and the Swiss Guard declined to comment.

Anrig’s removal is the latest example of the pontiff’s efforts to reform the Vatican, including the institution that has protected it since the 16th century – even at a time of heightened security concerns following unspecified threats against the pope.

The pope’s apparent discomfort with the gruelling shifts and strict rules of the Swiss Guard, which were enforced by Anrig, has been evident since his election in 2013. Italian press reports said the pontiff wanted to see a less rigid military corp and one that was less obsessed by rules.

The Argentinian pope is known to relish direct contact with people and has shunned security efforts that would limit his exposure to threats but cut him off from the public.

In a trip to Rio de Janeiro last year, the pontiff’s desire to travel in an open vehicle at a slow speed through throngs of people caused alarm, even among some cardinals watching the spectacle from afar.

When Francis shook hands with one of his guards in October, a moment that was immortalised in a photograph, it was said to have caused a stir because the physical contact was a break in protocol.

Although the Swiss Guard is known for its Renaissance-age uniforms, a note by Anrig on the guard’s website suggests visitors ought not to be fooled by the outfit. Underneath the uniform is “actually a state-of-the-art trained Swiss security professional,” he said.

Just like the Swiss mercenaries of the 16th century, he added, today’s guards understood that “Christ’s church and his vicar on Earth deserve, no demand … to be defended” even if it means sacrificing their lives.

Anrig’s appointment in 2008 stirred controversy after press reports revealed the former Swiss police chief had been involved in an alleged 2003 abuse case in which immigrant prisoners were forced to strip naked before being photographed in degrading positions. A Swiss judge found that there was evidence of abuse but ultimately closed the case because he found that the officers had not acted with malice.

Anrig, who was ordered to pay some of the court fees, denied any wrongdoing at the time of his appointment at the Vatican, saying: “I had an investigative police job to carry out, and that is what I did.”

The commander was again in the news earlier this year when he was credited as a co-author of a Vatican cookbook that included the Argentinian pope’s favourite recipes.

“A soldier can only fight and wage war when he has eaten well, and enough,” Anrig said at a press conference at the book launch.

The pope recently told his security personnel in a special service in their honour that the biggest threat facing the Vatican was not from a bomb or a bullet, but the gossips who “threaten the life of the church and the life of the Vatican every day” as they sow destruction and “destroy the lives of others”.

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« Reply #336 on: Dec 05, 2014, 07:34 AM »

Vatican discovers millions of euros ‘tucked away’ in departmental accounts

Economy minister says discovery means city-state’s finances are in better shape than previously believed

Reuters in Vatican City
The Guardian, Thursday 4 December 2014 14.03 GMT   

The Vatican’s economy minister has said hundreds of millions of euros were found “tucked away” in accounts of various Holy See departments without having appeared in the city-state’s balance sheets.

In an article for Britain’s Catholic Herald, to be published on Friday in its new magazine format, Australian cardinal George Pell wrote that the discovery meant overall Vatican finances were in better shape than previously believed.

“In fact, we have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet,” he wrote.

“It is important to point out that the Vatican is not broke … the Holy See is paying its way, while possessing substantial assets and investments,” Pell said, according to an advance text made available on Thursday.

Pell did not suggest any wrongdoing but said Vatican departments had long had “an almost free hand” with their finances and followed “long-established patterns” in managing their affairs.

“Very few were tempted to tell the outside world what was happening, except when they needed extra help,” he said, singling out the once-powerful secretariat of state as one department that had especially jealously guarded its independence.

“It was impossible for anyone to know accurately what was going on overall,” said Pell, head of the new secretariat for the economy that is independent of the now downgraded secretariat of state.

Pell is an outsider from the English-speaking world transferred by Pope Francis from Sydney to Rome to oversee the Vatican’s often-muddled finances after decades of control by Italians.

Pell’s office sent a letter to all Vatican departments last month about changes in economic ethics and accountability.

As of 1 January each department will have to enact “sound and efficient financial management policies” and prepare financial information and reports that meet international accounting standards.

Each department’s financial statements will be reviewed by a major international auditing firm, the letter said.

Since the pope’s election in March, 2013, the Vatican has enacted major reforms to adhere to international financial standards and prevent money-laundering. It has closed many suspicious accounts at its scandal-rocked bank.

In his article, Pell said the reforms were “well under way and already past the point where the Vatican could return to the ’bad old days’.

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« Reply #337 on: Dec 09, 2014, 06:38 AM »

Church of England warns ‘indefensible’ number of people are going hungry

Agence France-Presse
08 Dec 2014 at 11:09 ET                   

The Church of England launched a parliamentary report Monday urging Britain’s government to do more to eliminate hunger, pointing to a sharp rise in the number of people turning to food banks.

The report, which was compiled jointly with a group of MPs, called for measures to ensure surplus food reaches those who need it most rather than go to waste.

“We believe it is indefensible that huge numbers of people are going hungry in a country which wastes such vast quantities of food,” the report said.

It also called for an increase in the minimum wage and a more efficient system for state welfare payments. It said that the government should apply for European Union funding for the food bank network.

The Trussell Trust, one of the main charities running food banks in Britain, said the number of people using its centres has risen from 128,697 in 2011/12 to 346,992 in 2012/2013 and 913,138 in 2013/14.

Britain’s population was 63.2 million in the 2011 census.

The trust runs 420 food banks and the report said that around 400 more were operated by other charities.

The report said it was “clear that demand for emergency food assistance is increasing, and sometimes increasing dramatically”.

Over the last year, it said that 30 percent of visitors — the highest proportion — said they came to the food bank due to delays in receiving welfare payments.

“How shocking it is to find this happening here,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Church of England’s spiritual leader, said on Monday, after warning in a newspaper article on Sunday that hunger “stalks large parts” of the country.

The co-chairman of the group behind the report, MP Frank Field of the main opposition Labour party, said: “There is clear evidence that something terribly disturbing is happening.”

He added: “People are near the abyss and the smallest thing can tip them over into the abyss.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government, led by the centre-right Conservatives, has imposed steep cuts on public services in Britain since coming to power in 2010 to try and reduce a budget deficit.

Minister for civil society Rob Wilson said that government departments would be “reflecting carefully on each of the recommendations made in the report”.

The economy is set to be a key battleground in next May’s general election, for which opinion polls place the Conservatives and Labour almost neck-and-neck.

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« Reply #338 on: Dec 12, 2014, 06:18 AM »

Pope Francis tells shoppers: Don’t buy products made by modern-day slaves

Agence France-Presse
11 Dec 2014 at 07:29 ET     

As the January sales season nears in the West, Pope Francis will call on shoppers not to buy products which may have been made by modern-day slaves – whatever the savings.

In a speech to be delivered on January 1 entitled “No longer slaves, but brothers and sisters,” the Pope will say that despite the financial crisis, consumers should think twice before buying “items which may have been produced by exploiting others.”

For their part, businesses “have a duty to be vigilant that forms of subjugation or human trafficking do not find their way into the distribution chain.”

His message, published by the Vatican on Wednesday, December 10, slams “the growing scourge of man’s exploitation by man,” an “abominable phenomenon” covering everything from forced prostitution to child soldiers and slave labour in factories.

He warns that a common source of slavery is “corruption on the part of people willing to do anything for financial gain.”

He notes that slave labour and trafficking “often require the complicity of intermediaries”, pointing the finger at “law enforcement personnel, state officials, or civil and military institutions.”

According to the 2014 Global Slavery index, published last month, nearly 36 million men, women and children are trapped in modern-day slavery, the definition of which ranges from forced marriages to people coerced into prostitution, fighting wars or manual labour like picking cotton.

The 77-year-old pope calls for better cooperation between countries to combat “the transnational networks of organized crime” and bemoans the “context of general indifference” in which tales of slavery are heard.

In the speech he says his thoughts go to refugees and migrants “deprived of freedom”, who “in order to remain within the law, agree to disgraceful living and working conditions” as well as those rendered “objects of trafficking for the sale of organs, for recruitment of soldiers, for begging.”

“I think also of persons forced into prostitution, many of whom are minors, as well as male and female sex slaves… (of) women forced into marriage, those sold for arranged marriages and those bequeathed to relatives of deceased husbands,” he says.

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« Reply #339 on: Dec 13, 2014, 06:40 AM »

Afraid of upsetting China? Pope Francis will not meet the Dalai Lama

Agence France-Presse
12 Dec 2014 at 10:56 ET                   

Pope Francis will not meet the Dalai Lama when the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader visits Rome this weekend, a Vatican spokesman said Thursday — a decision apparently seeking to avoid upsetting China.

The Dalai Lama arrives in the Italian capital Friday for three days to attend a meeting with other Nobel peace laureates. The event was moved to Italy from South Africa after the Pretoria government, anxious to foster economic ties with Beijing, declined to issue a visa for the 79-year-old Buddhist leader.

Sources said the Vatican decision to sidestep an opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama reflects concern over what would inevitably be a furious Chinese reaction, and a desire not to jeopordize efforts to build bridges with Beijing or risk retaliation against the country’s small Catholic community.

“Pope Francis obviously holds the Dalai Lama in very high regard but he will not be meeting any of the Nobel laureates,” the Vatican spokesman said, adding that the pontiff would be sending a video message to their conference.

It is now more than eight years since the Dalai Lama was last granted a papal audience by Francis’s predecessor Benoit XVI in October 2006.

Critics of the pacifying approach say it is at odds with the the pope’s emphasis on interfaith dialogue. Relations with Buddhism are expected to be a central theme of Francis’s visit to Sri Lanka next month.

The Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with China since they were broken off by Mao in 1951.

On a visit to South Korea in August, the pope called for a normalisation of relations, but insisted that could only happen if China’s Catholics are accorded the right to exercise their religion freely, and when the Vatican is allowed to appoint bishops in the world’s most populous country.

On his way back from Korea, Francis said he would visit China as soon as the Church was allowed to do its job there.

Researchers say there are about 12 million practising Catholics in China, half of whom attend services under the auspices of a state-controlled association. The other half are involved in clandestine churches which swear allegiance to the Vatican.

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« Reply #340 on: Dec 16, 2014, 06:39 AM »

Pope Francis offers to help the U.S. close Guantanamo prison

Agence France-Presse
15 Dec 2014 at 18:24 ET                   

The Vatican on Monday offered to help the United States in its efforts to close Guantanamo prison, a goal fervently supported by Pope Francis.

The offer came during talks between the pontiff’s Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, the number two in the Vatican hierarchy, and John Kerry, the US Secretary of State.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Holy See welcomed recent signs President Barack Obama appears to have accelerated efforts to close the controversial facility where some detainees have been held for more than a decade without charge and tortured.

He said the Vatican stood ready to “help find adequate humanitarian solutions through our international contacts” in order to help place detainees, adding that Parolin and Kerry had discussed the issue in depth.

Obama came to power six years ago promising to close Guantanamo, but has been frustrated in his efforts by a combination of opposition from Congress and the difficulties involved in finding homes for prisoners who are often unwanted by their home states and/or suspected of involvement in terrorist actions, including the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in some cases.

The pope made clear his feelings on the kind of abuses associated with Guantanamo in October, when he railed against the “penal populism” that led to countries facilitating torture, using the death penalty and incarcerating people without trial.

“These abuses will only stop if the international community firmly commits to recognizing… the principle of placing human dignity above all else,” he said.

Six prisoners — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — left Guantanamo earlier this month for Uruguay after 13 years of detention. That left 136 still incarcerated, 67 of whom had been cleared for release by the US administration.

Of that group, 54 are Yemenis who cannot go home because of the country’s chaotic current state.

Of the men who have not been cleared for release, some 15 are classified as “high value” detainees currently considered too dangerous to be tried or incarcerated in the United States.

For Guantanamo to be closed, Obama will have to persuade Congress to accept the transfer of this group to US facilities, which currently looks unlikely according to most observers of the US political scene.

Kerry was in Rome for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of an effort to relaunch a peace process in the Middle East. The Vatican spokesman said Francis welcomed the US efforts on that score.

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« Reply #341 on: Dec 17, 2014, 08:25 AM »

Vatican Report Cites Achievements and Challenges of U.S. Nuns

DEC. 16, 2014

A Vatican investigation of American nuns begun under the previous pope, prompting protests from outraged Catholics, ended in Rome on Tuesday with the release of a generally appreciative report that acknowledged the achievements and the challenges the nuns face given their dwindling ranks.

The relatively warm tone in the report, and at the Vatican news conference that released it, were a far cry from six years ago when the investigation was announced, creating fear, anger and mistrust among women in religious communities and convents across the United States.

“Sorry, folks. This is not a controversial document,” Mother M. Clare Millea, an American nun who directed the investigation, said at the news conference. Instead, she said, it was “a challenge for all of us.”

If anything, the report may help spur the process of including women in more decision-making roles in church life, some church observers said. According to the report, some nuns felt that bishops and priests did not welcome their opinions on “pastoral decisions which affect them or about which they have considerable experience and expertise.”

The report concluded by citing Pope Francis’ call “to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the church.” But it did not make any concrete suggestions.

Pope Francis, who was elected last year and had no role in initiating the investigation, celebrated Mass on Tuesday with some of the nuns and clergymen who carried it out.

Mother Millea said that Francis told them he knew the investigation was an “arduous experience,” and said of the nuns in the United States, “Please give them all my blessing.”

But the American sisters are not out from under Vatican scrutiny yet. There is still a separate review of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group representing about 80 percent of American nuns. The Vatican’s doctrinal office accused that group of hosting speakers and issuing materials that had a feminist cast and strayed from Catholic doctrine. In 2012, the Leadership Conference was put under the oversight of an American bishop for a thorough overhaul — a process that was supposed to last five years.

Sister Sharon Holland, the president of the Leadership Conference, who spoke at the Vatican news conference on Tuesday, said in an interview afterward that her organization had been working “very well” with the overseer bishop and his team, and that the oversight may end sooner than five years. She said there may be a news conference soon to discuss the outcome.

She also had an upbeat take on the new Vatican report, saying in the news conference: “It is not a document of blame or simplistic solutions. One can read the text and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on.”

The investigation, known as an apostolic visitation, was initiated in 2008 under Pope Benedict XVI with only a vague explanation. The Vatican said it was the largest apostolic visitation ever undertaken in a single country. Cardinal Franc Rodé, the head of the Vatican office for religious orders, said then that the purpose was to examine “the quality of life of religious women in the United States.”

The Vatican usually orders an apostolic visitation in the case of a serious problem or scandal, but there was no clear event or cause in this situation.

Cardinal Rodé later said he was concerned about “a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families and, perhaps, also a certain feminist spirit.”

About 350 communities of religious women were sent questionnaires asking about such things as their numbers and mission, prayer schedules, living arrangements, financial assets and property. Nearly 80 investigators visited 90 communities of nuns.

Some religious communities took umbrage at the investigation and did not cooperate fully. A few nuns said in interviews that their communities had decided to give the Vatican only a copy of their original founding constitutions. The survey questions about property and finances led some nuns to suspect that the Vatican could be assessing their communities’ assets with an eye to appropriating them. The nuns were eventually told that they did not have to answer the questions about finances, but the suspicions never fully faded.

The report acknowledged the resistance, saying that the Vatican was “well aware that the apostolic visitation was met with apprehension and suspicion by some women religious,” and that “the lack of full cooperation was a painful disappointment for us.”

Other communities of nuns, however, did cooperate and said that the process was an opportunity to reflect on their lives and communities and to be in more direct communication with the wider church.

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, coordinator of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, a smaller and more conservative umbrella group of nuns, said at the news conference that the visitation was “an overwhelmingly beautiful experience.”

If the Vatican does reprimand any communities or call for any changes, that would be done in private. Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, a Brazilian who succeeded Cardinal Rodé as head, said his office will send “individual reports” to some communities of nuns that “may have been the object of some concerns.”

But the broad report released Tuesday contained only brief, muted criticism, saying that the communities should “carefully review their spiritual practices and ministry to assure that these are in harmony with Catholic teaching.”

The concerns of some nuns that the Vatican had wanted the sisters to shift away from “social justice” ministry or advocacy were allayed by the report. Instead, it encouraged them to continue working with the poor and toward “the elimination of the structural causes of poverty.”

But the picture the report presented of the women’s orders was grim. It found that there were now about 50,000 nuns in the United States, a decline of 125,000 from the peak in the mid-1960s. The median age of American nuns is now in the mid- to late 70s, according to figures reported in other studies.

Many communities of nuns also struggled financially, “despite careful stewardship,” the report found. The sisters work for free or are “undercompensated,” sometimes in church positions. With the church downsizing, some had been laid off.

The investigators found that “many sisters expressed great concern” about how to continue their religious orders’ purpose and mission and the lack of a new generation to provide leadership. Many orders have invested a lot of time and energy in initiatives to attract new members. But the report found that “the results are not commensurate with the expectations and efforts.”

The two Vatican investigations had caused an uproar among some Catholics who picketed in front of parishes and cathedrals across the country. Nearly 60,000 signed a petition of support for the nuns, which was delivered to the American bishops at their conference in Atlanta in 2012. Several prominent bishops said at that meeting that the two crackdowns on the nuns had been damaging to the church’s public relations.

The Nun Justice Project, a coalition of Catholic groups organized to defend the sisters, on Tuesday called the visitation process “demeaning and a huge waste of time” that diverted the sisters from vital work.

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« Reply #342 on: Dec 18, 2014, 08:51 AM »

Pope Francis praises US and Cuba for normalizing diplomatic relations

17 Dec 2014 at 13:14 ET       

Pope Francis on Wednesday congratulated the United States and Cuba on their decision to establish diplomatic relations, and the Vatican said it was ready to support the strengthening of bilateral relations.

In a statement, the Vatican also confirmed that its diplomats facilitated talks between the two countries, “resulting in solutions acceptable to both parties.”

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the statement said.

It said the pope had written letters to Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama “and invited them to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two parties.”

The statement confirmed that Vatican diplomacy was used “to facilitate a constructive dialogue on delicate matters, resulting in solutions acceptable to both parties.”

It added that “The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens.”


Pope Francis played key role in Cuba normalization talks: US

Agence France-Presse
17 Dec 2014 at 11:59 ET

Pope Francis played a vital role in bringing Cuba and the United States to the negotiating table, making a “personal appeal” to the nations’ leaders, a US official said Wednesday.

The pontiff “sent that letter directly to President (Barack) Obama, and separately he communicated through a letter directly to President (Raul) Castro early this summer,” a move that gave “greater impetus and momentum” in the process to normalize relations, the senior administration official said.

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