Angry Protest Over New Bishop in Chile
By PASCALE BONNEFOY
MARCH 21, 2015
SANTIAGO, Chile — Hundreds of demonstrators dressed in black barged into a cathedral in a city in southern Chile on Saturday and interrupted the installation ceremony for the city’s new Roman Catholic bishop, Juan Barros, whom they accuse of complicity in a notorious case of clerical sexual abuse, blocking his passage and shouting, “Barros, get out of the city!”
The scene inside the Cathedral San Mateo de Osorno was chaotic, with television images showing clashes between Barros opponents, carrying black balloons, and Barros supporters, carrying white ones. Radio reports said several protesters tried to climb onto the altar where Bishop Barros was standing. After the ceremony, he left the cathedral through a side door escorted by police special forces. Outside, about 3,000 people, including local politicians and members of Congress, held signs and chanted demands that he resign.
Weeks of protests, candlelight vigils and letters to Pope Francis were not enough to persuade him to rescind his decision in January to appoint Bishop Barros to lead the Diocese of Osorno, 570 miles south of the capital, Santiago. Bishop Barros was a close associate of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a prominent Santiago priest whom the Vatican found guilty of sexual abuse in 2011. Father Karadima, now 84, was ordered to retire to a “life of prayer and penitence.”
The appeal was also a test case for the pope’s stated policy of zero tolerance for clerical abuses.
“We are used to the blows by the Chilean Catholic hierarchy, but it’s especially hurtful when the slap in the face comes from Pope Francis himself,” Juan Carlos Cruz, 51, who said he was abused by Father Karadima in the ’80s, said in a telephone interview. “We hoped he was different.”
On Saturday, the Vatican declined to comment on Francis’ appointment of Bishop Barros.
Mr. Cruz and three other young men who were devoted followers of Father Karadima, and members of a Catholic youth movement he oversaw, accused him of sexually abusing them over two decades, starting when they were teenagers. Criminal charges were filed against the priest alleging abuse during the years 1980 to 1995, but a Chilean judge dismissed them in 2011, saying the statute of limitations had expired.
In a February letter to Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, the papal nuncio to Chile, Mr. Cruz accused Bishop Barros of covering up Father Karadima’s abuses, threatening seminarians if they spoke out about them and, while serving as secretary to Cardinal Juan Francisco Fresno, destroying letters addressed to him reporting the abuses.
“When we were in Karadima’s bedroom, Juan Barros saw how he touched us and made us kiss him,” said Mr. Cruz, referring to himself and other young victims. “He witnessed all of that countless times. And he has covered it all up.”
In a statement addressed to the Osorno community, Bishop Barros denied any knowledge of the abuses. “I never imagined the serious abuses committed by this priest,” he said. “I have never approved or participated in these gravely dishonest acts.”
In February, more than 30 priests and deacons of the Osorno Diocese signed a letter to Archbishop Scapolo asking the pope to reverse his decision. “We don’t feel embraced, and much less understood, by our church hierarchy,” they said. “The spiritual union of our church has been damaged.” Days earlier, 51 members of the Chilean Congress sent a letter to the Vatican asking the pope to revoke the appointment.
On Wednesday, the Chilean Bishops Conference issued a brief statement backing Pope Francis in “a spirit of faith and obedience” and calling for the unity of the church, without addressing the accusations against the bishop.
The archbishop of Concepción, Fernando Chomalí, met with the pope in Rome on March 6. “I spoke to him at length about the consequences the appointment has had in Osorno and the country,” Archbishop Chomalí said in a text message. “He was very well-informed of the letters he had received through different channels. The pope told me he had analyzed the situation in detail and found no reason” to reverse his decision.
Juan Carlos Claret, 21, a law student and church member who has been leading the protests in Osorno, said at least six candlelight vigils had been held in front of the cathedral in recent weeks. “A bishop has to have moral authority and Barros doesn’t have it, not for priests, lay people or civil society,” he said. “What does it take for Barros to resign, if he has the entire community against him?”
Pope faces protests by sex abuse board against bishop’s appointment
Incredulity over Francis’s approval of Chilean bishop Juan Barros, who is alleged to have covered up for a notorious South American paedophile
Associated Press in Vatican City
Thursday 26 March 2015 18.48 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 20.33 GMT
Several members of Pope Francis’s sex abuse advisory board have expressed concern and incredulity over his decision to appoint a Chilean bishop to a diocese despite allegations that he covered up for the South American nation’s most notorious paedophile.
In interviews and emails with Associated Press, the experts have questioned the pope’s pledge to hold bishops accountable and keep children safe, given the record of Bishop Juan Barros in the case of the Rev Fernando Karadima.
The five commission members spoke to AP in their personal and professional capacities and stressed that they were not speaking on behalf of the commission, which Francis formed in late 2013 and named Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, to head.
“I am very worried,” said Dr Catherine Bonnet, a commission member, French child psychiatrist and author on child sex abuse. “Although the commission members cannot intervene with individual cases, I would like to meet with Cardinal O’Malley and other members of the commission to discuss a way to pass over our concerns to Pope Francis.”
Pope's promise to tackle abuse tested by appointment of Chilean bishop
Another commission member, Marie Collins, herself a survivor of abuse, said she could not understand how Francis could have appointed Barros, given the concerns about his behaviour.
“It goes completely against what he [Francis] has said in the past about those who protect abusers,” Collins told AP. “The voice of the survivors is being ignored, the concerns of the people and many clergy in Chile are being ignored, and the safety of children in this diocese is being left in the hands of a bishop about whom there are grave concerns for his commitment to child protection.”
Barros was installed as bishop of the southern Chilean diocese of Osorno last weekend amid unprecedented opposition, and scuffles inside the cathedral by protesters who say he is unfit to lead. The demonstrators point to his close association with Karadima, a charismatic and popular priest who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.
Three of Karadima’s victims told AP this month that Barros witnessed the abuse decades ago at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Santiago, the Chilean capital, and that he did nothing. They accused Barros of destroying a letter detailing allegations against Karadima that was sent to the then bishop in 1982.
Barros had long refused to comment publicly on the allegations, but on the eve of his installation insisted he did not know about any abuse until he read about the allegations in 2010 news reports.
Barros’s appointment in January sparked unprecedented opposition, in a country that is slowly coming to grips with the church sex abuse crisis that has afflicted the US, Europe and Australia in particular. More than 1,300 church members in Osorno, along with 30 priests from the diocese and 51 of Chile’s 120 members of parliament, sent letters to Francis in February urging him to rescind the appointment.
To no avail. On the eve of the 21 March installation, the Vatican embassy in Chile issued a statement expressing its full “confidence and support” in Barros and urging the church in Chile to show a spirit of “faith as well as communion” by accepting Barros as the new Osorno bishop.
His installation, however, was a scene of utter chaos, with protesters entering the cathedral, pushing and shoving and nearly coming to blows as Barros tried to walk down the aisle. Most of the diocese’s priests boycotted the event, an almost unheard-of vote of no confidence in a new bishop.
The appointment has divided Chile’s bishops’ conference, and it remains to be seen if Barros will be able to effectively govern. That said, the Holy See is loth to be bullied by popular opinion, although Francis has shown himself willing to remove bishops who have divided their local church or caused scandal.
Never try to cover up child sex abuse, Pope Francis tells clergy
The issue is particularly delicate for Francis, who would have known well the Karadima scandal when it broke in 2010, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires in neighbouring Argentina. The scandal implicated his friend, the then archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, who admitted that he shelved an investigation into Karadima in 2005 but reopened it in 2010 as the global abuse crisis was erupting.
Francis has since made Errázuriz a member of his group of nine core cardinal advisers. Any wavering by Francis on the Barros appointment could open a Pandora’s box of renewed allegations against Errázuriz and others in the Chilean church hierarchy who dismissed allegations from victims and instead stood by Karadima.
Commission member Baroness Sheila Hollins, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist and life peer in Britain’s House of Lords, said accountability regardless of role or rank must be enforced when it comes to children being sexually abused.
“The hierarchical rank of the perpetrator must be of no consequence in evaluating the facts,” she said. “The crime of sexual violation against children and minors transcends both rank and role.”
Ultra-traditional Catholics rebel against pope in Brazil: ‘He is less Catholic than us’
Hailing from around the world, a group led by an excommunicated bishop call themselves a ‘resistance’ movement against Vatican reforms. The response from the Vatican was swift and unequivocal: ‘Excommunication is automatic’
Jonathan Watts in Nova Friburgo and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome
Wednesday 1 April 2015 11.00 BST Last modified on Thursday 2 April 2015 00.05 BST
In a secluded monastery in south-eastern Brazil, a breakaway group of ultra-conservative Catholics gathered to participate in an act of rebellion against the pope.
The setting could hardly have been more tranquil: rolling green hills, purple-glory trees, palm leaves swaying in the wind and a temporary chapel made of breeze block walls and a tin roof left partially open to the elements.
But the 50 or so priests, Benedictine monks, nuns and other worshippers who file into Santa Cruz monastery on Saturday were no ordinary congregation. Hailing from Europe, the US and Latin America, they described themselves as a “resistance” movement against Vatican reforms.
In favour of Latin services – and fiercely opposed to ecumenism, freedom of religion and closer relations with Judaism – they had come to defy the authority of Rome with the ordination of a new priest by an excommunicated bishop, Jean-Michel Faure.
It was the second such ceremony in the past month: Faure was consecrated here without papal approval only two weeks ago by the Holocaust-denying British bishop Richard Williamson. In response, both clerics were automatically ejected from the church, but this has not stopped the group’s drive to build an unsanctioned clergy.
The ceremony harked back to an earlier, more conservative age. Women sat on one side of the aisle, their heads – even the youngest girls – covered in scarves. Over three hours, the liturgy was almost entirely in Latin, as were the hymns sung by a choir of monks accompanied by a nun on an electric organ.
Before his ordination, brother André Zelaya de León prostrated himself before the altar and then rose to his knees for a blessing on his tonsured head by Faure. At times, the prayers were so quiet that they almost drowned out by the cicadas and birds in the trees.
Apart from the digital cameras, cellphones – and the electric organ – the ceremony would have been recognisable to centuries of Catholic believers before what today’s ultra-conservatives consider to be the wrong turn taken by the Catholic church with the democratising reforms of the 1962 Second Vatican Council.
After the mass, Faure told the Guardian the Vatican was smashing tradition, and going against the teachings of Pius X, a staunch conservative who was pope between 1903 and 1914.
“We do not follow that revolution. The current pope is preaching doctrine denied by Pius X. He is less Catholic than us,” he said. “He does not follow the doctrine of the faith that are the words of Jesus Christ.”
The Vatican’s response to the ordination was unequivocal.
“Excommunication is automatic,” a spokesman said. He added: “For the Holy See, the diocese of Santa Cruz in Nova Friburgo does not exist. Faure can say what he wants, but a Catholic, and even more so a bishop, obeys and respects the pope.”
Faure, a French cleric who has worked in Mexico and Argentina, said he did not accept this ruling.
“Canon law states that excommunication is valid if it follows a mortal sin. But ours is not a mortal sin. We’re just following our religion. To do this, we need priests, and to have priests we need bishops.”
He compared his situation to that of other Catholics in history, such as Joan of Arc, who were initially excommunicated but later recognised for their contribution to the Church. “Although we are a minority now, if you look at history, we are a majority. There all the saints, 250 popes and all the Catholics who think exactly as we think.”
Faure said he only reluctantly become a bishop in case Williamson died in an accident, which would leave the group without the means to ordain priests.
Though he did not say it, the French bishop may also be replacing his British counterpart as a spokesman for the movement. Williamson has repeatedly stirred up controversy with comments denying the Holocaust, praising the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as a peacemaker, warning that Muslims are taking over Europe, and claiming that women are dominating corporations and the military because they are not fulfilling their natural role “making babies”.
Williamson was one of four bishops illegally ordained in 1988 by a French Roman Catholic archbishop called Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Society of St Pius X and an outspoken critic of the liberalisation of certain church practices following the Second Vatican Council, including the widespread use of vernacular language rather than Latin in mass, inter-faith dialogue and efforts to communicate with the secular world.
Lefebvre and all four bishops were immediately excommunicated for participating in the illicit ordinations, but their movement has been a thorn in the Vatican’s side ever since.
Only about one million Catholics – or 0.1% of the Catholic population – describe themselves as followers of St Pius X, but successive popes have attempted to heal the rift with them.
In 2009, Pope Benedict ignited controversy by lifting the excommunication of the four bishops and even promised the rebel group autonomy from bishops they considered too liberal.
This quickly backfired when it was revealed that Williamson had alleged that no Jews were killed in gas chambers, that the US orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that freemasons were conspiring to destroy Catholicism.
The Vatican said at the time that Benedict had not been aware of Williamson’s views on the Holocaust. In 2012, Williamson was dismissed by the St Pius X fraternity in part because he disagreed with their willingness to communicate with Rome. Faure has also been ejected by the society and his ordination unrecognised.
“All the declarations of Bishop Williamson and Fr Faure prove abundantly that they no longer recognize the Roman authorities, except in a purely rhetorical manner,” the society said in a communique issued after his ordination.
In contrast to his predecessor, Pope Francis has paid little attention to the ultra-conservatives.
Williamson has declared that he does not intend to start a new society, but the movement has now created a new bishop and a priest, and Faure claimed that there were at least two bishops in the Society of St Pius X who sympathised with the self-styled “Resistance”.
In conversation, the traditionalists appear to be hoping for a divine and dramatic intervention. Williamson, who describes himself as a “bloody-minded Brit”, has said he expects a “gigantic chastisement” such as Noah’s flood.
Faure talks more of a coming third world war.
“It would be horrible, but it would change the world. But the day after wouldn’t be like the day before,” Faure said, pointing to the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. “It would change many things in the world. It would be a new approach in many aspects and why not, in religion.”
For the moment, however, their group of roughly 55 rebel clergy has to rely on stubborn faith.
René Trincado, a priest from Chile, who was expelled from the Society of St Pius X in 2013 because he opposed an accord with the Vatican, is among those at the Santa Cruz monastery, which he described as the base of the resistance operations in Brazil.
“We’re not afraid of excommunication. It has no validity,” he said
Pope Francis to visit Colombia to support ongoing peace negotiations
Pope adds country to his upcoming Latin America tour
Colombia in peace talks with Marxist rebel group to end 50 years of war
Reuters in Bogotá
Thursday 2 April 2015 18.25 BST
Pope Francis will visit Colombia, the Vatican has announced, as the pontiff urged Colombians to work for peace as the country conducts talks with Marxist rebels to end 50 years of war.
Colombia: is the end in sight to the world’s longest war?
The pope will add Colombia to an upcoming tour of Latin America, the Vatican said in a letter to the country’s Catholic leadership, without specifying a date.
“His Holiness invites you to be collaborators in the construction of peace,” the letter said, adding that the 78-year-old Argentine pope expressed solidarity with the victims of the war, which has killed 220,000 people.
“We will receive (the Pope) with open arms and hearts as a messenger of peace and reconciliation,” President Juan Manuel Santos said on Twitter.
The government is more than two years into peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, rebel group.
“We should not lose energy or hope in the face of this project’s difficulties,” the letter said of peace efforts.
Negotiators have so far reached partial accords on land reform, an end to the illegal drugs trade and political participation for ex-rebels. They are now debating the thorny issues of victim reparations and guerrilla demobilisation.
“We must continue the commitment to the displaced, to survivors of land mines, those who have endured the taking of their property, the kidnapped, with everyone who has suffered,” the Vatican said.
Vatican suspected of rejecting gay French ambassador
Vatican has not responded to nomination of Laurent Stéfanini, a senior diplomat described as an exemplary candidate in the Italian press
Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome
Friday 10 April 2015 13.02 BST
The Vatican has been dragging its feet on the approval of France’s ambassador to the Holy See, raising suspicions that it has effectively rejected the nomination of Laurent Stéfanini because he is gay.
The Vatican declined to comment on speculation about the delay.
Stéfanini, a 55-year-old practising Catholic, has been described in the Italian press as an exemplary candidate and a man of “exceptional culture”. He is a senior diplomat and chief of protocol in the French government of François Hollande.
His nomination was put forward in January but the Vatican has not responded, usually an indication that the potential ambassador has been rejected. Reports in the French and Italian press suggested the decision was clearly connected to Stéfanini being gay.
The controversy could tarnish Pope Francis’s image as being more tolerant than his predecessors over gay rights. When asked by a reporter in 2013 about the existence of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican, he responded: “Who am I to judge?” His words have been interpreted as a sign of some acceptance of gay people in a church that regards homosexual acts as a sin.
But on a trip to the Philippines earlier this year, the Argentinian pontiff decried efforts to “redefine family” and the institution of marriage, comments that were seen as an attack on marriage equality for gay men and lesbians.
The appointment of Stéfanini was blessed by the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, according to a report in Out magazine. The French embassy to the Holy See declined to comment.
According to a report in the Vatican Insider, which closely follows the Vatican in Rome, Stéfanini was invited to a meeting with the apostolic nuncio in Paris, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, on 5 February and informally asked to step aside and renounce his nomination because of his sexual orientation.
The report, which did not disclose the source of the information, said the manner in which the request was made – during a private and informal meeting – underlined that it was considered a “very delicate” situation for the Vatican. Stéfanini told the archbishop that it was not in his mandate to renounce the nomination, since it was a matter for the French government to decide.
If Stéfanini has been rejected because he is gay, it would not be the first time the Vatican has turned down a candidate for controversial reasons.
The Vatican dismissed reports in 2009 that it had rejected three possible US candidates for ambassador put forward by the Obama administration because they supported abortion rights. But there have been two occasions in the past 10 years when the Vatican has openly objected to candidates – one from Argentina, who was divorced and lived with his new partner, and another from France, who was gay and in a civil union with another man.
A Vatican source told the Catholic News Service in 2009: “For Catholic ambassadors, there is the question of their matrimonial situation. But outside of that, I don’t think there are other criteria.”
In most cases, potential ambassadors are proposed to the Vatican before a formal nomination is made, at which point objections can be aired. It is unclear whether France had cleared the Stéfanini nomination beforehand.
Pope on Diplomatic Tightrope with Armenian Genocide Mass
by Naharnet Newsdesk 11 April 2015, 07:00
Pope Francis will mark the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians with a special ceremony on Sunday, with all eyes on whether he will use the word "genocide".
The 78-year old is walking a diplomatic tightrope, pressured to use the term publicly to describe the Ottoman Turk murders, but wary of alienating a potentially key ally in the fight against radical Islam.
While many historians describe the cull as the 20th century's first genocide, the accusation is hotly denied by Turkey.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, and have long sought to win international recognition of the massacres as genocide.
But Turkey rejects the claims, arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.
Francis and Armenian patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni will celebrate a mass in Saint Peter's Basilica, which will include elements of the Armenian Catholic rite and be attended by the country's president Serzh Sargsyan.
The Vatican is holding the mass in time for those in attendance to return home for the official April 24 commemoration.
Using the word would not be a papal first: John Paul II used it in a joint statement signed with the Armenian patriarch in 2000 which said "the Armenian genocide, which began the century, was a prologue to horrors that would follow".
But it would be the first time the killings have been described as such during a mass in Saint Peter's Basilica.
- 'Annihilation of their brothers' -
Before becoming pope, Jorge Bergoglio used the word several times in events marking the mass murders, calling on Turkey to recognise the killings as such, according to religious news agency I.Media.
As pope Francis is said to only have used it in at one private audience in 2013 -- but even that sparked an outraged reaction from Turkey.
During a meeting with a visiting Armenian delegation this week the pontiff deplored those "who were capable of systematically planning the annihilation of their brothers" -- but stopped short of using the word genocide.
He called for "concrete gestures of peace and reconciliation between two nations that are still unable to come to a reasonable consensus on this sad event," saying both sides should be driven by the "love of truth and justice".
In 2014, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then premier, offered condolences for the mass killings for the first time, but the country still blames unrest and famine for many of the deaths.
Over 20 nations, including Italy, France and Russia, recognise the killings as genocide.
From the Greek word "genos", for race or tribe, and the suffix "cide" from the Latin for "to kill"; genocide is defined by the UN as an "act committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."
Religious observers say Francis, who stressed the importance of remembering "the martyrdom and persecution" of the Armenians, may make parallels in his homily to the rise in the persecution of Christians around the world.
Those murdered a century ago were mainly Christian and although the killings were not driven by religious motives, the pontiff has already drawn comparisons with modern Christians refugees fleeing Islamic militants.
Source: Agence France Presse
Pope boosts Armenia's efforts to have Ottoman killings recognised as genocide
Pope Francis delivers powerful message by recognising atrocities between 1915 and 1922 as genocide in speech at Vatican on eve of centenary
Ian Black in Yerevan and Rosie Scammell in Rome
Sunday 12 April 2015 18.12 BST
Armenia’s efforts to promote greater awareness of the massacre of 1.5 million of its people by Turkey during the fall of the Ottoman empire were given a dramatic boost on Sunday by the pope’s description of the atrocities as “the first genocide of the 20th century” – days ahead of the centenary of the event.
Pope Francis used a special mass in St Peter’s Basilica to mark the anniversary, and referred to “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” of the last century.
“The first, which is widely considered the first genocide of the 20th century, struck your own Armenian people,” the pontiff said. “Bishops and priests, religious women and men, the elderly and even defenceless children and the infirm were murdered.”
Historians estimate that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in state-organised violence between 1915 and 1922. Russia, France and about 20 other countries recognise it as genocide.
The US and Britain do not, however: most likely to avoid angering their Nato ally. The Turkish government rejects the term and emphasises wartime conditions, although in recent years it has acknowledged Armenian suffering.
Turkey immediately summoned the papal ambassador to Ankara to express its displeasure and later recalled its ambassador from the Vatican. The foreign ministry said the pope had contradicted his message of peace and dialogue during a visit to Turkey in November.
Expressing “great disappointment and sadness”, it called the message discriminatory because it only mentioned the pain suffered by Christian Armenians, and not Muslims and other religious groups.
The fate of the Armenians and impunity for their killers has come to be seen as foreshadowing the Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews 25 years later. The concept of genocide was recognised by the UN in 1948. Armenia hopes wider international recognition will increase pressure on Turkey, though their relations are complicated by other factors, including the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Strictly speaking, it was not the first such announcement. In 2001 Pope John Paul II and Kerekin II, the leader of the Armenian Apostolic church, used identical language to that used by Pope Francis on Sunday. The original statement, however, was issued in Echmiadzin, the Armenian equivalent of the Vatican, rather than in Rome.
Analysts said the timing was also highly significant, coming so close to the 24 April commemoration event in Yerevan and around the world. Turkey has infuriated Armenians by choosing to mark the centenary of the wartime Gallipoli landings on exactly the same date, a move deliberately designed to overshadow remembrance of the genocide. Gallipoli has never before been commemorated on that day.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also ignored an invitation from the Armenian president, Serž Sargasyan, for him to come to Yerevan. The Armenian government is expected to welcome the statement when Sargasyan, who attended the mass, returns from Rome.
“This is the first time a mass was dedicated to the Armenian genocide victims in St Peter’s,” said commentator Ara Tadevosyan. “The pope’s acknowledgement that ours was the first genocide of the 20th century is very important. It’s another sign that the civilized world is accepting what happened to us despite all the pressure from Turkey.”
The pontiff’s decision to bracket the mass killing of Armenians with the crimes perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism gives the Vatican’s “highest sanction” to genocide recognition, said Theo van Lint, a professor of Armenian studies at the University of Oxford. “I think it’s very important to realise he gave space to the leaders, the heads of the Armenian church and Armenian Catholics, to fully give their view of events. It’s very clear that the pope accepts that it is a genocide.”
The pope was joined by Kerekin II, Sargasyan and other dignitaries. Allowing Armenian leaders to speak in St Peter’s Basilica was described as a “strategic move” by Van Lint.
Igor Dorfmann-Lazarev, a researcher on Armenian history at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London, said the ceremony also demonstrated the pope’s efforts to put peripheral Christian groups at the centre of the Catholic church. “This is the first time that Armenia is the centre of attention of Catholic life and the Christian world,” he said. “It’s meant to draw attention to the Christian east.”
Pope Francis also declared a 10th-century Armenian monk, St Gregory of Narek, a “doctor of the church”. The mystic and poet is celebrated for his writings, some of which are still recited in Armenian churches.
Britain will be represented at the Yerevan genocide centennial by the Conservative MP John Whittingdale, the chairman of the British-Armenian all-party group. The UK representation at the Gallipoli anniversary will be led by the Prince of Wales.
Pope Meets Relatives of Pakistani Christian on Death Row
by Naharnet Newsdesk 15 April 2015, 21:22
Pope Francis on Wednesday met the husband and daughter of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death over blasphemy charges, the Vatican said.
"I pray for Asia, for you and for all Christians who are suffering," Francis told Bibi's husband Ashiq Masiq and their 15-year-old daughter, according to the Vatican Insider website.
Mother of five Bibi has been on death row since a row broke out in 2009 with a group of women she was working with in a field.
They accused her of insulting the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, a charge she denies. Soon afterwards, she was jailed and sentenced by a court to death by hanging.
Bibi's death sentence was confirmed in October 2014 by the Lahore High Court.
Helped by an NGO to travel to Europe, Bibi's husband and daughter are seeking to rally support for their cause. They want European officials to take up the issue with Islamabad.
Last November, the EU parliament called on Pakistan to overhaul its blasphemy laws with a view to repealing them, saying they were being used to target Christians and other minorities.
Bibi is waiting for the final ruling of the Supreme Court.
Her case is set to go back to trial in May.
During the recent Easter celebration, Bibi asked Pope Francis to pray for her. Several months earlier, she had sent him a letter.
Pope Francis is widely seen as a champion of the poor and marginalized.
In 2010, his predecessor Benedict XVI had publicly called for Bibi's release.
While Francis has not made such a plea, he has called for the end of persecution of Christians in Pakistan and everywhere else.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence.
Source: Agence France Presse
Pope Urges Global Response to Italy Boat People Crisis
by Naharnet Newsdesk 18 April 2015, 14:10
Pope Francis on Saturday urged the international community to act over a deadly surge in the numbers of migrants attempting to reach Italy via perilous sea crossings from north Africa.
The pontiff's appeal came at the end of a week in which more than 450 people are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean and more than 11,000 other would-be immigrants to Europe have been rescued by Italy's coastguard, merchant ships or vessels involved in a much-criticized European Union maritime border patrol operation.
The latest consignment, a group of more than 450 refugees including 50 children, two newborn babies and eight pregnant women, disembarked at Messina on Sicily on Saturday morning following a rescue by the Italian navy ship the Driade.
"I want to express my gratitude for Italy's undertaking in welcoming the numerous migrants seeking refuge at the risk of their lives," Francis said.
"It is evident that the proportions of the phenomenon demand much greater involvement. We must not tire in our attempts to solicit a more extensive response at the European and international level."
The pope was speaking during his first official meeting with new Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who reiterated Rome's longstanding call for more support from its EU partners in dealing with the humanitarian crisis.
"These broken lives compromise the dignity of the international community and we are in danger of losing our humanity," Mattarella said.
An estimated 900 boat people have perished in the waters between Libya and Italy already this year and current trends point to last year's total of 170,000 migrants landing in Italy being at least matched.
Aid organizations say the death toll is much higher than it might have been if the Italian navy's Mare Nostrum operation had not been suspended at the end of last year.
Italy scaled back the search and rescue operation after failing to persuade its European partners to help meet its operating costs of nine million euros ($9.7 million) per month amid divisions over whether the mission was unintentionally encouraging migrants to attempt the crossing.
Mare Nostrum has been partially replaced by a much smaller EU-run operation called Triton which has a fraction of the assets and manpower deployed by Italy.
The migrants seeking to reach Europe with the help of people smugglers are generally fleeing conflict or persecution in places such as Eritrea, Afghanistan and Syria, or poverty and hunger in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Source: Agence France Presse