Cruz Puts Hold on Biden’s CIA Pick Burns Over Nord Stream 2 Pipeline

Republican Senator Ted Cruz has placed a hold on President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency to pressure the administration to put tough sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project.The Senate Intelligence Committee this week backed William Burns, a former ambassador to Russia, by a unanimous vote. Burns has been confirmed by the Senate for five previous jobs in 33 years and is expected to eventually be approved by the full Senate.FILE – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 26, 2021, in Orlando, Fla.The hold, placed Friday, is a delaying tactic as the Texas senator pressures the administration to sanction ships and companies helping Russia’s state energy company Gazprom build the $11 billion pipeline to take gas under the Baltic Sea to Europe via Germany.”I’ll release my hold when the Biden admin meets its legal obligation to report and sanction the ships and companies building [Russia President Vladimir] Putin’s pipeline,” Cruz wrote on Twitter. The move was first reported by Bloomberg.After a year’s delay caused by sanctions, Gazprom is racing to finish the pipeline, which analysts expect could happen by September. A second vessel, the Akademik Cherskiy, has joined the construction site off Denmark.President Joe Biden believes the pipeline is a “bad deal for Europe,” the White House has said. The pipeline would bypass Ukraine, depriving it of lucrative transit fees, and could undermine its efforts against Russian aggression.”It’s hard to see how delaying the confirmation of a CIA director who enjoys strong bipartisan support makes Americans safer,” said Biden transition spokesperson Andrew Bates. “Biden has been clear that Nord Stream 2 is a bad idea and plays into Russia’s hands.”U.S. lawmakers from both parties who oppose the project believe about 15 ships are helping to build the pipeline. But the State Department last month sanctioned only one ship in a report to Congress required by sanctions law.Forty Republican senators said in a letter to Biden this week that the sanction against the Fortuna vessel would not stop the pipeline, which as of February had about 75 miles (120 km) left to go off Denmark and 19 miles (30 km) off Germany.The State Department is set to submit to Congress another report on Nord Stream 2 on May 16, which could contain more sanctions, though spokesman Ned Price has said sanctions are only “one of many tools” that can be used.  

your ad here

‘Vaxi Taxi’ Targets Vaccine Anxiety as UK Minority Uptake Lags 

The Vaxi Taxi was a godsend for Leslie Reid.The 48-year-old stagehand wanted to get a COVID-19 shot, but he was worried about riding public transport to the vaccination center because his immune system had been weakened by a bout with flesh-eating bacteria that almost cost him his arm.So Reid jumped at the opportunity when his doctor called and offered him the shot, together with door-to-door transportation.”I was one of the fortunate ones,” he said after being inoculated inside a black van cab at a community vaccination event in north London. “I’m sure there are plenty more vulnerable people than me that should have gotten this. What can I say? I’m very glad.”The “Vaxi Taxi” that ferried Reid to his appointment and whisked him home again is just one initiative doctors and community organizers are promoting as they try to make sure everyone gets inoculated. While Britain has engineered one of the world’s most successful coronavirus vaccination programs, delivering at least one dose to more than 30% of its population, minority groups and deprived communities are lagging behind.A recent survey commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care found that just 72.5% of Black people in England either have received or would accept the vaccine. That compares with 87.6% for Asians and 92.6% for whites.Anxieties, discriminationThat disparity is the product of a variety of issues ranging from concerns about vaccine safety and past discrimination in Britain’s health care system to simple ones like transportation.But community leaders are trying home-grown solutions to fill the gap.Dr. Jacqueline Marshall talks to patient Margaret Duncan Williams before giving her a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine during a pop-up vaccination drive in Kilburn, London, Feb. 28, 2021.Dr. Sharon Raymond is one of the activists trying to remove vaccination barriers. The general practitioner and head of the Covid Crisis Rescue Foundation helped organize last Sunday’s pop-up vaccination event at Cambridge Gardens, a triangle of grass and trees in a northwest London neighborhood where half the residents are from ethnic minorities.Her aim was to create an inviting space where people would feel comfortable coming forward to ask questions and discuss their concerns.”It brings it to a place that’s familiar. It becomes much more accessible,” Raymond said. “That’s why this model of bringing the vaccination out to communities in familiar places in an unthreatening way, I think, is the way forward.”So on a chilly, late winter afternoon people got their shots under a heated, bright yellow tent festooned with balloons. Neighbors munched on sandwiches, sipped drinks and stopped to talk to the doctors, nurses and firefighters on hand.’Suited to our DNA’Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi praised such local initiatives, describing them as part of a national strategy that aimed to organize uptake down to the postal code. He told The Associated Press that data are showing that people want access to the vaccine at a time of their choice and in a place they trust.”We demonstrated our ability to organize and deploy at scale in the Olympics,” he said with enthusiasm. “This is even bigger. This is the largest vaccination program in the history of the [National Health Service], in the history of the United Kingdom. But I do think it’s suited to our DNA on these isles.”And for those who needed a little help to get to the park earlier this week, there was the Vaxi Taxi. People didn’t even need to leave the back seat in order to receive their inoculation if they didn’t want to.Raymond, who has crowd-funded many of her initiatives, hopes to get more support to get iconic black cabs rolling out to help across the capital. Since they have screens, they provide a shield for those inside, are accessible for the disabled and, with few tourists these days, there are plenty of cabbies willing to take part.”This is my vision of London,” Raymond said. “The black cab saves the day!”   

your ad here

US Gives Hope to Previously Denied Asylum-Seekers in Camp

In a camp at the U.S.-Mexico border, some asylum-seekers were told by officials that the U.S. government may reopen their cases and they would eventually be able to enter the U.S. to wait out the asylum process.The new opening for people previously denied came as Mexican authorities worked to close the improvised camp along the banks of the Rio Grande that has housed thousands of asylum-seekers for more than two years.Late Friday night, an official with Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said via Twitter that the last asylum-seekers with active cases from the camp had been processed and the camp was closed. Others — about 50 people — with closed asylum cases who were told their cases could be reopened were urged to move to a shelter. But some remained in the camp Saturday.The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment Friday and Saturday.Processing beginsLast month, the Biden administration began processing asylum-seekers who had been forced to wait out the long process from Mexico during the administration of former President Donald Trump. The Matamoros camp was one of the most visible signs of a policy implemented in response to high numbers of asylum-seekers by an administration that worked in various ways to make it more difficult to access protective status in the United States.On Saturday, Juan Antonio Sierra, who runs the migrant shelter in Matamoros confirmed that he had committed to housing asylum-seekers with closed cases so that the camp could be closed.FILE – Children play at a camp of asylum-seekers in Matamoros, Mexico, Nov. 18, 2020. Some asylum-seekers were told March 5, 2021, that the U.S. may reopen their cases and allow them to enter the U.S. to wait out the asylum process.Sierra said that the day before, the U.S. consul in Matamoros, Yolanda Parra, met with officials from the U.N. refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, Sierra and some migrants. She agreed that the U.S. government would evaluate the possible reopening of closed cases for the people who remained in the camp, Sierra said.The U.S. State Department referred questions to the Department of Homeland Security.”I was going to take them to the Casa del Migrante until it was sure they were going to cross,” Sierra said. The goal, he said, was to avoid new people arriving at the camp and assure that those who were still there would cross the border only when it was clear that their cases would be reopened and that they would avoid being immediately deported.’Avalanche is already here’Asked if word of reopened cases could draw more people to the border, the Reverend Francisco Gallardo, who is in charge of the shelter, said that “the avalanche is already here. A lot of people are arriving.” He warned there were signs that a new camp would form.The shelter has more than 200 migrants staying there.By Friday afternoon, several dozen asylum-seekers remained in the riverside camp. Workers dismantled primitive shelters and hauled away portable toilets. Friday night, power was cut to the camp. But even with the promise that their cases could be reopened, many resisted abandoning the camp for fear that a less public space would allow their shrunken number to be more easily ignored by the U.S. government.FILE – A migrant walks through a refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico, Nov. 5, 2019. Mexican authorities are working to close the improvised camp along the Rio Grande that has housed thousands of asylum-seekers.A Honduran asylum-seeker who has lived in the camp for two years with her son said that personnel from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees told her Friday that “the United States had approved the reopening of our cases and that we had to wait some days for them to authorize the crossing to the U.S.”The woman, a former police officer who requested anonymity because she did not want to jeopardize her case, said the U.S. government had rejected her case earlier. With the help of lawyers, she appealed and was turned down again in November. She has filed a subsequent appeal.”Now there’s hope,” she said.Others were informed of the same, she said. Some were told their situations could be addressed in a couple of days, others in 10 days. She said they didn’t give her a date.They advised her to move to a local migrant shelter that would provide better living conditions, but “no one wants to move because we believe they are going to forget us,” she said.’Remain in Mexico’Previously, U.S. officials have not said if people will be allowed back in the U.S. at some future date to pursue asylum claims that were denied or dismissed under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, better known as “Remain in Mexico.” They have described the re-entry of an estimated 26,000 people with active cases as an initial step but have not said what any subsequent measures would entail.The Matamoros camp has been an uncomfortable monument to the policy for its residents, as well as the U.S. and Mexican governments.Human Rights Watch published a report Friday that said it “has consistently found that migrants in Mexico are exposed to rape, kidnapping, extortion, assault and psychological trauma.”On Thursday, 10 Democratic members of Congress told U.S. Secretary of Antony Blinken that the U.S. government must help push for greater protections for migrants and asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico.  

your ad here

Pope Meets With Iraqi Ayatollah; Both Call for ‘Peaceful Coexistence’

Pope Francis met with Iraq’s top Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, during a visit Saturday morning to the Shiite holy city of Najaf. Both men issued statements after the meeting urging peaceful coexistence among Iraq’s different religious groups.
 
Amateur video posted on social media showed a group of children in the south of Iraq chanting a welcome message to Pope Francis as he traveled to Najaf Saturday morning to meet with the country’s top Shiite religious authority. Welcome signs were also posted on billboards in many towns and cities.After traveling from Baghdad by helicopter, Pope Francis, accompanied by close advisers, walked through the narrow streets of Najaf to reach al-Sistani’s compound. Chaldean Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako sat near the pope, as he chatted with al-Sistani in his office for close to an hour.Neither of the men could be heard on the video but each of their offices issued statements after the meeting calling for “unity among Iraqis and peaceful coexistence.”
 
Arab media reported the meeting between Francis and al-Sistani “took months to arrange,” as the Shiite cleric rarely meets with visiting foreign religious or political dignitaries. Cardinal Sako, however, is said to have close ties to al-Sistani and his advisers, and he wanted both men to deliver a message of peace and unity.Iraq analyst Hassan Mustapha told Arab media that both religious leaders are following what looks like a “roadmap” for reconciliation following the bitter conflicts in recent years.He said that both the pope and ayatollah are renouncing violence and killing, and both would like mankind to live in peace, security and faith. The statements of both, he said, read like a roadmap with al-Sistani denouncing oppression, persecution and religious tyranny while promoting freedom to choose.Al-Sistani reaffirmed that religious authorities must play a role in protecting Iraq’s small Christian community and that they should be able to live in peace and enjoy the same rights of all other Iraqis.Pope Francis, center, prepares to leave after an inter-religious meeting near the archaeological site of Ur, near Nasiriyah, Iraq, March 6, 2021.The pope’s meeting with al-Sistani was followed by a visit to the ruins of Ur, thought to have been the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham. Members of Iraq’s different religious groups held an interfaith meeting before hearing the pope speak.Chaldean religious music preceded the pope’s message along with readings from the Bible and the Quran related to Abraham. The leader of the world’s Roman Catholics urged Iraqis to “unite” and not to “surrender” to violence and oppression. He stressed that “we are all grandsons of (the Prophet) Abraham and we must not try to divide heaven since heaven calls for uniting men.”
 
Dr. Paul Sullivan, a professor at the Washington-based National Defense University, told VOA that “the adherents of the Abrahamic faiths – Islam, Christianity and Judaism have a chance to see similarities over differences.” “Let us hope,” he stressed, “they take this chance and get beyond the blind spots of prejudice and bigotry … to see their common humanity and similarities of belief.”  
Later Saturday the pope was expected to celebrate mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Baghdad.
 
Francis also plans to visit Mosul, Irbil, and Qaraqosh before leaving Iraq.  
 
The pope will hold an open-air mass at the Irbil stadium on Sunday afternoon. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, attendance will be limited to 10,000 people.
 
The Christian presence in Iraq dates to the first centuries of the religion, but only a few hundred thousand Christians remain today.  
 
This is the pope’s thirty-third trip outside the Vatican and his first in the last 15 months due mostly to the COVID pandemic.  
 
The pontiff is scheduled to return to Rome Monday morning.
 

your ad here

In Biblical City of Ur, Pope Urges Inter-Religious Tolerance, Fraternity

Pope Francis has addressed an interfaith gathering of Iraq’s religious and ethnic groups in Ur, said to be the birthplace of Abraham, the common patriarch for Jews, Christians and Muslims. He drove home the need for respect and unity, and he used the opportunity to condemn violent religious extremism.  
       
Pope Francis traveled to the ruins of the ancient city of Ur, considered the cradle of civilization, to remind people that what binds them is more powerful than what divides. Faithful from the Christian, Muslim, Yazidi and Mandean communities were present Saturday. The pope reinforced his call for inter-religious tolerance and fraternity during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, where religious and ethnic divisions and conflict have torn apart the social fabric for decades.    The pontiff said that all of Iraq’s communities have suffered too long from terrorism and war. “Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: They are betrayals of religion,” he said. His remarks in Italian were translated into English.     “We are believers and as believers mustn’t stand silent when we see terrorism, when terrorism takes hold of religion for its own gain. It is up to us as religious men and women to destroy evil. We cannot have the light of God be darkened as it has been in this country, where war, violence and terrorism has brought darkness,” the pontiff said.Pope Francis also drew attention to the genocide perpetrated by Islamic State militants against Iraq’s minority Yazidi community and their continuing plight.   “Yazidi men and women, young children were taken from their homes and sold into slavery, subjected to violence. We must remain hopeful for the future. But there are still people to this very day, who are held captive. People who cannot return to their homeland. We pray for freedom of thought, of mind, freedom of religion to be upheld everywhere,” the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics said.Pope Francis has sought to support Christians in Iraq, whose numbers have dwindled from 1.5 million in 2003 to less than 300,000 in this majority Shiite Muslim country, by calling on leaders to protect all minority rights.
 
During his speech, the pope praised “the young Muslim volunteers of Mosul, who helped to repair churches and monasteries, building fraternal friendships on the rubble of hatred, and those Christians and Muslims who today are restoring mosques and churches together.”  He called “the greatest blasphemy” the act of “hating our brothers and sisters.”   

your ad here

Pope Francis Meets With Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani

Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Roman Catholics, met Saturday in Iraq with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a leading Shiite Muslim figure.
 
The historic session between 84-year-old pontiff and the reclusive al-Sistani took place in the 90-year-old Muslim leader’s modest home in the holy city of Najaf.  
 
Al-Sistani said Christians have the same rights as other Iraqis and that they should have peaceful lives.  
 
Al-Sistani is one of the most important figures in Shiite Islam and wields considerable influence in Iraq and beyond.
 
Iraqi Christians are hoping al-Sistani’s statement and Francis’ message of coexistence will help to ease their lives in the mainly Muslim country, where they find themselves frequently under attack from Shiite militia members.
 
A religious official in Najaf told the Associated Press that the meeting was “a private visit without precedent in history, and it will not have an equal to any previous visits.”  
 
The encounter between the two religious leaders also comes against the tense backdrop of the possibility of rocket firings into Iraq from rogue Iranian-back groups and the global COVID-19 pandemic.  
 
After his meeting with al-Sistani, Francis attended an interfaith meeting in the ancient city of Ur where he again delivered his message of peaceful coexistence.
 
“From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters,” Francis said.
 
Ur is believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, revered by three religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
 
Later Saturday the pope will celebrate mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Baghdad.
 
Francis will also visit Mosul, Irbil, and Qaraqosh before leaving Iraq.  
 
The pope will give an open-air mass at the Irbil stadium on Sunday afternoon. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, attendance will be limited to 10,000 people.
 
The Christian presence in Iraq dates to the first centuries of the religion, but only a few hundred thousand Christians remain today.  
 
This is pope’s 33rd trip outside Italy and his first in the last 15 months due in most part to COVID-19.   
 
The pontiff is scheduled to return to Rome Monday morning.
 

your ad here

Portugal Envoy Urges US to Counter Chinese Bid at Key Seaport

Once the seat of a powerful maritime empire, Portugal is attracting attention from today’s great powers. Analysts warn that unless the U.S. moves quickly, China will soon expand its control over a key Portuguese seaport.A month from now, the fate of a new terminal at the Port of Sines on Portugal’s southwestern coast is scheduled to be decided.Sines is “the first deep water port if you go from the United States to Europe, so it’s a very important infrastructure,” Domingos Fezas Vital, Lisbon’s ambassador to the United States, said in a phone interview.In 2012, the People’s Republic of China acquired a stake in one of the four terminals at the port, drawing attention to Beijing’s strategic design.“We now have an international bid for a fifth terminal, which will be a second container terminal,” Fezas Vital told VOA. “We would very, very, very much like to have American companies competing for this bid; I think it will be very important to have an American presence in Sines.”He said it was unimportant whether that bid was “American only (or) American together with friends and allies.”Eric Brown is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute with a focus on Asia and global strategy.“It’s clear when you look at the PRC’s Maritime Silk Road — the oceans-focused component of the Belt and Road Initiative — that one of their ambitions is to control the littorals of Eurasia and large parts of Africa,” he said in a phone interview. “And I would say that in the grander imaginings of things, that also includes Latin America.“One of the ways in which they’re attempting to acquire that control is through politically directed economic investments through state-owned enterprises and state-directed enterprises in critical ports that skirt the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, and increasingly the North Sea and the Baltic states,” he said.Seen from that perspective, “control of Sines, which is important for the Iberian economy and for southwestern Europe as a whole, is of enormous consequence,” he said.Brown sees Chinese behavior as that of a “power trader,” an idea recently put forward by Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. PortugalThe thesis that Germany acted as a “power tradet” that used trade as a key instrument to gain commercial and military advantage over its adversaries was originally put forth by the late economist Albert O. Hirschman in a book entitled FILE – Ship containers are moved at the Port of Sines, in Sines, Portugal, Feb. 12, 2020.In order to not lose out to Chinese state-backed bids for key infrastructure projects like the Port of Sines, Washington may just have to take a page from Beijing’s playbook, Prestowitz suggested, and put more government muscle behind corporate initiatives.While American conservatives have traditionally been most skeptical about government efforts to direct the economy, Prestowitz welcomed a Republican-led move under former President Donald Trump in 2019 to reorganize two existing agencies into the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.The move, he said, was a good start toward giving the United States the tools to fight back against China.Atkinson, for his part, proposes the establishment of a NATO-like trade alliance that would be able to respond “bravely, strategically, and expeditiously” to Chinese economic expansionism and power projection.

your ad here

Stop ‘Fussing and Whining’ Over COVID Response, Says Brazil President

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center has recorded more than 116 million global coronavirus cases. The U.S. is on the verge of having 30 million infections, followed by India with 11 million and Brazil with 10.8 million.Earlier this week, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had callous words for fellow Brazilians unhappy with the president’s response to the pandemic.“Stop all this fussing and whining,” the president said. “How long are you going to keep on crying?” Bolsonaro was speaking in the Brazilian state of Goiás, where almost 9,000 people have died.Only the U.S. has more COVID deaths than Brazil. According to Hopkins, the U.S. has more than 522,000 COVID deaths, while Brazil has reported more than 262,000.Russia’s statistics agency said Friday more than 200,000 Russians diagnosed with COVID-19 have died, more than double the figure used by the government’s coronavirus task force.The figures released Friday from Rosstat, a government agency that releases coronavirus data infrequently, said it had recorded 200,432 deaths through January. Those figures include nearly 70,000 people who had the virus at the time of death, but whose main cause of death was not deemed to be COVID-19.The tally is significantly more the government’s coronavirus task force’s data, which had recorded 88,285 deaths as of Friday. The government’s task force does not count deaths in which the virus was present but is not ruled the main cause.Using the figures from Rosstat, Russia would have the third most COVID-19 fatalities in the world, behind only the United States and Brazil.Rosstat also reported Friday that Russia has recorded 394,000 more deaths since the start of the pandemic until the end of January than in the previous period — suggesting that coronavirus-related deaths in the country could be even higher.In another development Friday, the World Health Organization said investigators who conducted an inspection in China to determine origins of the COVID-19 virus would release a report on their findings in mid-March.Peter Ben Embarek, who led the mission, clarified at a regular coronavirus news briefing Friday in Geneva that an interim report would not be released as previously reported.“To clarify, there was never a plan for an interim report, first of all,” Embarek said. “It was hoped we would get a summary report out,” but “the director-general [Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus] will receive that report from the team in the near future and we will discuss the recommendations.”The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the WHO team decided not to release its interim account “amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington.”Another international group of scientists has called for the WHO to conduct a new inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. The scientists calling for a new probe said in an open letter Thursday that the WHO team “did not have the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation.”The scientists also noted in their letter that the WHO investigators in China were accompanied by their Chinese counterparts.The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.Throughout his term, former U.S. president Donald Trump strongly suggested, without evidence, the coronavirus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.A global team of inspectors began its four-week investigation in Wuhan in January and finished it last month.Italy on Friday surpassed 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. The health ministry reported 24,036 new confirmed cases Friday, the third straight day this week that daily new caseloads exceeded 20,000 cases.The government said it would further tighten coronavirus restrictions in three of its 20 regions after health officials warned of the increase of cases of more contagious variants.France reported 23,507 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday, which is down from the previous week, however officials said the number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 reached its highest level this year.Canada’s drug regulator announced Friday that it had approved Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, the fourth such inoculation to get approval. Canada has also approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.Mickey Mouse may once again scamper on Disneyland’s streets, according to California officials who said Friday the state’s theme and amusement parks could open as early as April 1.There are, of course, COVID-19 restrictions on the openings. The parks would open under restricted capacity. They would also have to be in a county that is not under certain constraints, designed to slow the coronavirus transmission rate.A purple county has the most restrictions due to its coronavirus rate of infection, under California’s color-code system. Disneyland is in a purple country, but at the present rate of transmission, officials expect the theme park would likely be eligible for reopening sometime in April.

your ad here

Pope Meets with Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah

Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Roman Catholics, met Saturday in Iraq with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a leading Shiite Muslim figure.The historic session between 84-year-old pontiff and the reclusive al-Sistani took place in the 90-year-old Muslim leader’s modest home in the holy city of Najaf.Al-Sistani said Christians have the same rights as other Iraqis and that they should have peaceful lives.Al-Sistani is one of the most important figures in Shiite Islam and wields considerable influence in Iraq and beyond.Iraqi Christians are hoping al-Sistani’s statement and Francis’ message of coexistence will help to ease their lives in the mainly Muslim country, where they find themselves frequently under attack from Shiite militia members.A religious official in Najaf told the Associated Press that the meeting was “a private visit without precedent in history, and it will not have an equal to any previous visits.”The encounter between the two religious leaders also comes against the tense backdrop of the possibility of rocket firings into Iraq from rogue Iranian-back groups and the global COVID-19 pandemic.After his meeting with al-Sistani, Francis attended an interfaith meeting in the ancient city of Ur where he again delivered his message of peaceful coexistence.“From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters,” Francis said.Ur is believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, revered by three religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity.Later Saturday the pope will celebrate Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Baghdad.Francis will also visit Mosul, Erbil, and Qaraqosh before leaving Iraq.The pope will give an open-air Mass at the Erbil stadium on Sunday afternoon. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, attendance will be limited to 10,000 people.The Christian presence in Iraq dates to the first centuries of the religion, but only a few hundred thousand Christians remain today.This is pope’s 33rd trip outside Italy and his first in the last 15 months due in most part to COVID-19.The pontiff is scheduled to return to Rome on Monday morning.

your ad here
1 2 3 800