Vatican City (AFP) – Pope Francis on Sunday became the first person registered for next year’s World Youth Day festivities, using an iPad to sign up while addressing thousands of pilgrims and tourists in Saint Peter’s Square.
“Thanks to this electronic device, I signed up as a simple pilgrim,” Francis said, declaring himself the first person registered for next edition of the Youth Day celebration while flanked by two Polish youths.
An official Vatican car with diplomatic licence plates has been found riddled with several kilos of cocaine and cannabis in the French Alps, according to local reports.
The car belongs to an Argentine cardinal, 91-year-old Jorge Maria Mejia, who is also emeritus librarian at the Holy See. Mejia retired in 2003 and is confined to bed following an heart attack. Pope Francis visited Mejia just two days after being elected.
According to French newspaper Le Monde, the cardinal’s personal secretary entrusted two Italian men, aged 31 and 41, with taking the car for its annual checkup.
They drove the vehicle to Spain to buy four kilos of cocaine and 200 grams of cannabis and returned to France, according to reports, in the belief that the diplomatic plates would protect them.
But in Chambery, near the border with Switzerland and Italy, the two were stopped by customs officers for a routine check. After the bizarre discovery, they were arrested and taken into custody. Judicial police in Lyon have opened an investigation for drug trafficking.
The Vatican confirmed the car had been stopped in France with the drugs on board. Since neither of the men had Vatican diplomatic passports, the Vatican is not legally implicated, French sources say.
People who manufacture weapons or invest in weapons industries are hypocrites if they call themselves Christian, Pope Francis said on Sunday.
Francis issued his toughest condemnation to date of the weapons industry at a rally of thousands of young people at the end of the first day of his trip to the Italian city of Turin.
“If you trust only men you have lost,” he told the young people in a long, rambling talk about war, trust and politics after putting aside his prepared address.
“It makes me think of … people, managers, businessmen who call themselves Christian and they manufacture weapons. That leads to a bit a distrust, doesn’t it?” he said to applause.
He also criticized those who invest in weapons industries, saying “duplicity is the currency of today … they say one thing and do another.”
Francis also built on comments he has made in the past about events during the first and second world wars.
He spoke of the “tragedy of the Shoah,” using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.
“The great powers had the pictures of the railway lines that brought the trains to the concentration camps like Auschwitz to kill Jews, Christians, homosexuals, everybody. Why didn’t they bomb (the railway lines)?”
Discussing World War One, he spoke of “the great tragedy of Armenia” but did not use the word “genocide”.
Francis sparked a diplomatic row in April calling the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago “the first genocide of the 20th century,” prompting Turkey to recall its ambassador to the Vatican.
The practical effect of the Vatican’s decision to sign a treaty recognizing the state of Palestine is debatable, but it is a symbolic victory for Palestinians who are struggling to keep alive their dream of a Palestinian state, which has been thwarted by the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Vatican has effectively treated Palestine as a state since the United Nations General Assembly voted in 2012 to recognize Palestine as a nonmember observer state. It has been referring unofficially to the state of Palestine for at least a year.
But the new treaty, addressing issues like properties, taxes and protocol at holy sites, will make clear the Vatican has formally switched its diplomatic relations from the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was named in earlier drafts, to the state of Palestine.
The announcement on Wednesday comes at an especially bleak moment for Israel-Palestinian peace efforts. American-led negotiations collapsed 13 months ago and Israel is about to install a new government that is widely considered more hard-line and hostile to a two-state solution than its predecessors.
On the eve of the March 17 elections, Mr. Netanyahu said flat out that no Palestinian state would be established during his tenure, and while he later softened his position, the possibility of any serious negotiating initiative seems dead. The guidelines for Israel’s new government even omitted the term “Palestinian state.”
Many experts believe that Israel’s expansion of housing units for Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has made establishing a territorially coherent Palestinian state nearly impossible. All of which has set the Palestinians on a quest for international recognition and support for sovereignty, ultimately to pressure Israel into talks.
Not surprisingly, Israel expressed disappointment at the Vatican’s decision and said it would not advance the cause of peace. Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, was less restrained, telling The Washington Post the treaty represents a resurgence of the “historical Catholic enmity towards Jews.”
But Pope Francis has made it a point to improve relations with other religious denominations and has described the spiritual bond between Catholics and Jews as “very special.”
Last month, he condemned anti-Semitic incidents in Europe and declared that Christians and Jews must defend one another from discrimination and persecution.
He has also repeatedly demonstrated a commitment to social and humanitarian issues, speaking out with his moral authority on the need to confront inequality around the world.
While the Vatican’s announcement may carry special weight, it’s far from the only government to recognize Palestine. Some 135 nations have recognized a state of Palestine since 1988. In October, Sweden formally recognized the Palestinian state.
In recent months, parliaments in Britain, Spain, France and Ireland have urged their governments to do the same. Meanwhile, international efforts are underway to increase pressure on Israel through boycotts and United Nations resolutions.
A negotiated Israeli-Palestinian deal on a two-state solution is the best chance for justice and peace. But given the complete breakdown of negotiations, it is likely that more governments, in supporting the claims of the Palestinian people, will formally accept Palestine as a state.
Turkish government has authorized the construction of a new church in the country. It will be the country’s first non-Muslim temple built from scratch since 1923.
The government vowed to provide land for a new Christian church for Syriac community, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday in Istanbul at the meeting with representatives of non-Muslim communities.
The church will be erected in Yesilkoy, Istanbul suburb, on the shore of the Marmara Sea. The place already has temples for other Christian minorities – Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches.
“It is the first since the creation of the republic,” a government official told AFP. “Churches have been restored and reopened to the public, but no new church has been built until now.”
However, the government will not pay for construction. It will be paid by the Syriac group itself.
Syriacs are ethnic and religious minority whose number is less than 20,000 mostly live the southeast of the country and tend to be attending either Orthodox or Catholic churches. Their population has grown in the past years due to numerous Syriac refugees from Iraq and Syria.
Only about one percent of Turkish population of over 75 million people is not Muslim and since 1923 no new churches were built.
The ruling party is often criticized for its support to Islam in secular state. However, Turkish government is changing its attitude to religious minorities, partly to comply with European Union values, and has returned some property, for instance the Mor Gabriel Monastery in Mardin to the Syriac community.
“We do not consider any religious or cultural tradition as an outsider,” Davutoglu said at the meeting, as cited by the Daily Sabah. The government pays equal amounts of respect to all citizens, added the Prime Minister.
During his recent visit to Turkey, Pope Francis urged an end to the “hunt” for Christians and so called “Christianophobia” persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq.
In a joint service, Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople called for “constructive dialogue” with Islam “based on mutual respect and friendship.”
MIAMI — In just one generation, Latin America has seen the number of people who identify themselves as Catholic plummet, with more people becoming Protestant or dropping religion altogether, a new report shows.
The shift is dramatic for a region that has long been one of the bastions of Catholicism in the world. With more than 425 million Catholics, Latin America accounts for nearly 40% of the global Catholic population. Through the 1960s, at least 90% of Latin Americans were Catholic, and 84% of people surveyed recently by the Pew Research Center said they were raised Catholic.
But the report released Thursday found that only 69% of Latin Americans still consider themselves Catholic, with more people switching to more conservative Protestant churches (19%) or describing themselves as agnostic or religiously unaffiliated (8%).
Even last year’s election of an Argentine as pope to head the Catholic Church has led to conflicting feelings in Latin America.
“While it is too soon to know whether (Pope) Francis can stop or reverse the church’s losses in the region, the new survey finds that people who are currently Catholic overwhelmingly view Francis favorably and consider his papacy a major change for the church,” the report said. “But former Catholics are more skeptical about Pope Francis. Only in Argentina and Uruguay do majorities of ex-Catholics express a favorable view of the pope.”
(TIRANA, Albania) — Pope Francis will travel to the capital of Albania on Sunday, meeting with political and religious leaders.
According to Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office, the pope’s trip to Albania will be his fourth international voyage and his first trip to a European country outside of Italy.
Pope Francis will spend his time in Albania honoring the “victims of atheistic Communism,” Vatican Radio reports. He will also aim to encourage interreligious coexistence, as Albania is the only European nation with a Muslim majority of its population.
In his 11 hours in Albania, the pope will meet with Albanian President Bujar Nishani and other civil leaders, preside over a mass in Mother Teresa Square, and meet with the nation’s bishops before a meeting with religious leaders.
While in Albania, the pope is expected to make all of his speeches in Italian. About 15 percent of Albanians are Catholic and more than 60 percent are Muslim.
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