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            [post_content] => Rome. Pope Francis urged governments on Saturday (22/04) to get migrants and refugees out of holding centers, saying many had become "concentration camps."

During a visit to a Rome basilica, where he met migrants, Francis told of his visit to a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year.

There he met a Muslim refugee from the Middle East who told him how "terrorists came to our country." Islamists had slit the throat of the man's Christian wife because she refused to throw her crucifix to the ground.

"I don't know if he managed to leave that concentration camp, because refugee camps, many of them, are of concentration [type] because of the great number of people left there inside them," the pope said.

Francis praised countries helping refugees and thanked them for "bearing this extra burden, because it seems that international accords are more important than human rights."

He did not elaborate but appeared to be referring to agreements that keep migrants from crossing borders.

In February, the European Union pledged to finance migrant camps in Libya as part of a wider European Union drive to stem immigration from Africa.

Humanitarian groups have criticized efforts to stop migrants in Libya, where – according to a United Nations report last December – they suffer arbitrary detention, forced labor, rape and torture.

Last year the EU and Turkey reached a deal to send back irregular migrants from the Greek Aegean islands to Turkey in exchange for political and financial rewards for Ankara. The agreement was criticized by rights groups.

The pope urged people in northern Italy, home to an anti-immigrant party, to take more migrants, hoping that the generosity of southern Italy could "infect the north a bit."

Noting that Italy had one of the world's lowest birth rates, he said: "If we also close the door to migrants, this is called suicide."

The basilica of St. Bartholomew is a shrine to Christians killed for their faith in the 20th and 21st century.

It contains a prayer book used by Father Jacques Hamel, the 85-year-old French priest killed by Islamist militants who stormed into a church in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray last year, forced Hamel to his knees, and slit his throat while they chanted in Arabic. His sister Roselyne attended the service.

Reuters
            [post_title] => Pope Likens Migrant Holding Centers to 'Concentration Camps'
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            [post_content] => Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has been ranked the fifth most followed global leader on Instagram, according to a research study released by global public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller earlier this month.

Over the past five years, governments and world leaders have increasingly flocked to the mobile photo and video sharing network to present more personalized images of themselves to a global audience.

In Indonesia, Jokowi uses several social media platforms – including Instagram – to share pictures and videos to engage with millennials and draw the public to participate in the country's political processes.

Burson-Marsteller presented the report, titled "Most Followed World Leaders on Instagram," which ranked 10 world leaders based on how many social media followers they have managed to accumulate and engage with.

The study showed that the number of users who follow Jokowi's Instagram account – @Jokowi – grew a stunning 673 percent over the past 12 months to a total of 3.7 million users.

The president also ranked fourth on the firm's "World's Most Interactive Leader" list, recording a total 17 million interactions with followers last year.

[caption id="attachment_655786" align="aligncenter" width="300"]President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo trails the White House, Pope Francis, Donald Trump and India's Narendra Modi on the 'Most Followed World Leaders on Instagram' list by Burson-Marsteller. (Photo courtesy of Burson-Marsteller) President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo trails the White House, Pope Francis, Donald Trump and India's Narendra Modi on the 'Most Followed World Leaders on Instagram' list by Burson-Marsteller. (Photo courtesy of Burson-Marsteller)[/caption]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi topped the list with 6.8 million followers, ahead of US President Donald Trump with 6.3 million.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis ranked third with 3.7 million Instagram followers, narrowly leading the White House's official Instagram account with a total of 3.4 million.

The firm also recorded Jokowi as having a 3.68 percent interaction rate, averaging 59 thousand likes per post. President Trump surpassed the Indonesian leader with a 3.39 percent interaction rate, averaging 111,000 likes per post and placing him fourth on the "Most Effective World Leaders on Instagram" list.

However, Modi topped that list as well, with each of his posts receiving an average 223,000 and comments or likes per social media post. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ranked sixth on the most effective list, recording a user interaction rate of 6.4 percent.

Over the past 12 months, Khamenei garnered a total 89 million interactions to his 1,423 social media posts, surpassing Pope Francis's 45 million interactions but behind Trump's total of 114 million.

Donald Baer, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, said in a statement the study aims to show the popularity and effectiveness of how world leaders and governments communicate with their constituents on digital platforms.

"Leaders around the world are pursuing daring communication techniques that show [...] personality and creativity. Leaders in business and other sectors can learn from the way the government uses Instagram."

To expand their social media accounts, some world leaders hire official photographers to capture moments, or do it themselves by taking "selfies," or self-portrait photos typically captured through smartphones.

Through his official Instagram account, President Jokowi is among 13 world leaders who have uploaded selfies to Instagram, including Argentine President Mauricio Macri (@MauricioMacri), Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (@PenaNieto), Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (@ Damedvedev) and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg (@Erna_Solberg).
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            [post_content] => Rome. Presiding at a Good Friday service, Pope Francis asked God for forgiveness for scandals in the Catholic Church and for the "shame" of humanity becoming inured to daily scenes of bombed cities and drowning migrants.

Francis presided at a traditional candlelight Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) service at Rome's Colosseum attended by some 20,000 people and protected by heavy security following recent attacks in European cities.

Francis sat while a large wooden cross was carried in procession, stopping 14 times to mark events in the last hours of Jesus' life from being sentenced to death to his burial.

Similar services, known as the Stations of the Cross, were taking place in cities around the world as Christians gathered to commemorate Jesus' death by crucifixion.

At the end of the two-hour service, Francis read a prayer he wrote that was woven around the theme of shame and hope.

In what appeared to be a reference to the Church's sexual abuse scandal, he spoke of "shame for all the times that we bishops, priests, brothers and nuns scandalized and wounded your body, the Church."

The Catholic Church has been struggling for nearly two decades to put the scandal of sexual abuse of children by clergy behind it. Critics say more must be done to punish bishops who covered up abuse or were negligent in preventing it.

Francis also spoke of the shame he said should be felt over "the daily spilling of the innocent blood of women, of children, of immigrants" and for the fate of those who are persecuted because of their race, social status or religious beliefs.

At the end of this month Francis travels to Egypt, which has seen a spate of attacks by Islamists on minority Coptic Christians. Dozens were killed in two attacks on April 9.

He spoke of "shame for all the scenes of devastation, destruction and drownings that have become ordinary in our lives."

On the day he spoke, more than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe were plucked from the Mediterranean in a series of dramatic rescues and one person was found dead. More than 650 have died or are unaccounted for while trying to cross the sea in rubber dinghies this year.

Francis expressed the hope "that good will triumph despite its apparent defeat."

Security was stepped up in the area around the Colosseum following recent truck attacks against pedestrians in London and Stockholm. Some 3,000 police guarded the area and checked people as they approached. The Colosseum subway stop was closed.

Francis is due to say an Eater vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday (15/04) and on Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, he reads his twice-annual "Urbi et Orbi" ("To the City and the World") message in St. Peter's Square.

Reuters
            [post_title] => On Good Friday, Pope Speaks of 'Shame' for Church and Humanity
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            [post_content] => Vatican City. US President Donald Trump has not asked to meet Pope Francis during his visit to Italy next month for the Group of Seven summit, sources said on Tuesday (11/04), in what would be a highly unusual omission.

Trump, who Francis suggested was "not Christian" if he wanted a wall on the Mexican border, is due in Sicily on May 26-27 for a meeting of the heads of the world's richest nations.

The two men have diametrically opposing positions on immigration, refugees, climate change and unbridled capitalism. Trump called the pope's criticism of his plan to build the Mexico wall "disgraceful."

US presidents have in the past made a beeline for the Vatican while they were in Italy or Europe in order to meet with the head of the world's largest Christian church. Only one of them, John Kennedy, was a Roman Catholic.

President George W. Bush met with a pope six times, three times each with Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict.

"The situation can change but are only six weeks left so it looks unlikely at this point," said a diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A senior Vatican diplomatic source confirmed that the White House had so far made no approaches to the Holy See about a possible meeting, which would be the first between the two men.

"The ball is on their side," said another Vatican source. "We have received no request."

A spokesperson for the US Embassy to the Vatican had no comment.

Open Door

As a matter of policy, popes meet with any head of state who requests an audience, regardless of any differences they have.

Besides being leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the pope is a head of state. Such meetings allow for an exchange of views on world affairs and a chance for the pope to encourage ethical solutions to world problems.

About 21 percent of Americans, or 70 million people, are Catholic. Washington has had full diplomatic relations with the Vatican since 1984, when President Ronald Reagan saw the Vatican under Pope John Paul, a Pole, as a crucial ally against communism.

Vatican officials have indicated that if the White House wants to squeeze in a meeting with the pope on Trump's schedule in Europe, they will try to oblige. Trump is due to attend a NATO meeting in Brussels on May 25 before going to Sicily for the G7.

Francis visited the United States in 2015 and there are no plans for a return in the foreseeable future, so it is not clear when a meeting between the two men could take place.

Last year, in response to an answer about then-candidate Trump's views on immigration and his intention to build a wall on the border with Mexico, Francis said a man with those views is "not Christian."

Trump, who grew up in a Presbyterian family, shot back saying it was "disgraceful" for the pope to question his faith.

In March, Cardinal Peter Turkson, a close aide of the pope, urged Trump to listen to "dissenting voices" and reconsider his position on climate change, after Trump signed an executive order dismantling Obama-era environmental legislation.

Francis has made defense of the environment a key plank of his papacy, strongly backing scientific opinion that global warming is caused mostly by human activity.

Reuters
            [post_title] => In Unusual Omission, No Trump-Pope Meeting Planned During Italy G7
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            [post_content] => Vatican City. Pope Francis' trip to Egypt this month is expected to go ahead despite twin attacks on Christian churches that killed 44 people, Vatican officials said on Monday (10/04).

However, diplomats and Vatican sources cautioned that the trip could be put in jeopardy or parts of it changed if the security situation worsened.

The pope is due to spend about 27 hours in the Egyptian capital Cairo on April 28-29, meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, grand imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb and the country's Coptic Pope Tawadros.

Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the Vatican deputy secretary of state, told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper that the events on Sunday, however tragic, "could not impede the pope from carrying out his mission of peace."

Tawadros was leading a congregation at Mass in Alexandria's Saint Mark's Cathedral when it was attacked. He was not hurt. That blast in Egypt's second-largest city came hours after a bomb struck a Coptic church in Tanta, a nearby city in the Nile Delta.

"There is no doubt that the pope will carry out his intention to go," Becciu said.

The Vatican also sent several communiques about logistics to journalists due to accompany the pope on his plane, in another indication that the trip was still on.

However, a senior diplomatic source said "we will have to keep our finger on the pulse of the situation until the very last minute."

In another indication of deepening worries about safety, there is no indication of the venue for a number of meetings by the pope in the latest program.

Both Vatican and diplomatic sources said a number of events might have to take place in one location, such as the presidential palace, so as to limit the number of times the pope would have to move around in the city.

Both of Sunday's attacks were claimed by the Islamic State, which has waged a campaign against Egypt's Christian minority, the largest in the Middle East.

Egypt's cabinet said on Monday a state of emergency would remain in place for three months.

Reuters
            [post_title] => Pope Visit to Egypt to Go Ahead Despite Blasts but Security Big Concern
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            [post_content] => Vatican City. Pope Francis condemned a deadly blast at a church in Egypt and said at a Palm Sunday Mass that the world was suffering from wars, terrorism and "interests that are armed and ready to strike."

Francis, who has not made any direct public comment on the current Middle East crisis, said the Mass as international tensions increased following the United States missile strike on a Syrian air base, which the Pentagon says was involved in a chemical weapons attack that killed 87 people.

While the pope, who is due to visit Egypt April 28-29, was celebrating the Mass for tens of thousands of people, the Vatican received word of the blast that killed at least 21 people and injured 50 in a Coptic church in the Nile Delta.

"I pray for the dead and the victims. May the Lord convert the hearts of people who sow terror, violence and death and even the hearts of those who produce and traffic in weapons," he said in hastily prepared comments at the end. The blast was the latest assault on a religious minority that has increasingly been targeted by Islamist militants, and there have been deep security concerns over the pope's trip.

Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week that culminates on Easter Sunday, commemorates the day Christians believe Jesus entered Jerusalem and was welcomed as the messiah, only to be crucified five days later.

Francis, marking the fifth Easter season of his pontificate, blessed palm and olive branches in the centre of St. Peter's Square before saying Mass.

"He [Jesus] is present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own: they suffer from slave labor, from family tragedies, from diseases," he said.

"They suffer from wars and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike. Women and men who are cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded," he added.

Before the US missile strike, Francis said he was horrified by the suspected chemical weapons attack, calling it an "unacceptable massacre" of innocent civilians.

Allies of the United States have expressed support for Washington's actions, calling them a proportionate response to Syrian forces' suspected use of chemical weapons. But they were denounced as illegal by Syria and its allies Russia and Iran.

Palm Sunday marks the start of a hectic week for the Pope, who on Thursday he visits a prison south of Rome to wash and kiss the feet of 12 inmates, commemorating Jesus' gesture of humility towards his apostles the night before he died.

Previous popes held the service either at the Vatican or a Rome basilica but Francis changed the tradition to stress the importance of going to the poor, the sick and the imprisoned.

He has drawn ultra-traditionalist ire for including Muslims and women in a service previously limited to Catholic men.

Reuters
            [post_title] => Pope Decries War, Terrorism and Weapons as Condemns Egypt Blast
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            [post_content] => Vatican City. Pope Francis asked for forgiveness on Monday (20/03) for the "sins and failings of the Church" during Rwanda's 1994 genocide, saying he hoped his apology would help heal the African state's wounds.

But Rwanda's government indicated it felt the apology did not go far enough, saying the local Church was still complicit in protecting the perpetrators of the genocide.

At a meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Pope Francis said that priests and Roman Catholic faithful had taken part in the slaughter of some 800,000 people from the ethnic Tutsi minority as well as moderates from the Hutu majority.

"[The pope] implored anew God's forgiveness for the sins and failings of the Church and its members, among whom priests, and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence," the Vatican said in a statement.

An official Rwandan statement repeated the government's long-standing accusation of Catholic complicity in the massacres.

"Today, genocide denial and trivialization continue to flourish in certain groups within the Church and genocide suspects have been shielded from justice within Catholic institutions," said a government statement.

Kagame, a Tutsi, led a rebel force to halt the slaughter in 1994 and accusations immediately surfaced that some priests and nuns had taken part in the killings.

Some of the ugliest massacres were committed in churches, missions and parishes where Tutsis who took shelter were hunted down by extremist Hutu militias.

A United Nations court in 2006 jailed a former Catholic priest for 15 years for ordering bulldozers to level a church, killing 2,000 people who were hiding inside.

Rwandan authorities have said other clergy implicated in the killings were allowed to start new lives in Europe and were protected by the Church.

A Rwandan military court sentenced a missing priest in absentia to life in prison on charges of rape and delivering Tutsi refugees from his church to militias who killed them.

Later arrested in France, where he was a popular priest in a rural parish, his case was eventually dropped and he was allowed to remain working at the parish. He has denied the charges.

The Catholic Church in Rwanda last year offered an apology, saying some of its members had fanned the ethnic hatred that led to the killings, but Kagame said at the time that he wanted the pope himself to say sorry.

"Why doesn't he apologize like he does with other cases where more minor crimes were committed by comparison with here?" he said, referring to sexual abuse cases where the pope has regularly apologized to victims and their families.

Francis said on Monday he hoped his "humble recognition of the failings of that period, which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the Church, may contribute to a 'purification of memory' and may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace."

Reuters
            [post_title] => Pope Asks Forgiveness for Church Role in Rwanda Genocide
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            [post_content] => Rome. Politicians should lower the volume of their debates and stop insulting each other, Pope Francis said on Friday (17/02), adding that leaders should be open to dialogue with perceived enemies or risk sowing the seeds of war.

"Insulting has become normal," he said in a 45-minute-long improvised talk to university students in Rome. "We need to lower the volume a bit and we need to talk less and listen more."

Francis, the son of Italian migrants to Argentina, also warned against anti-immigrant movements and urged that newcomers be treated "as human brothers and sisters".

While the pope spoke mostly in general terms about the need for more dialogue in society as he answered questions from four students at the Roma Tre campus, he singled out politicians.

"In the newspapers, we see this one insulting that one, that one says this about the other one," he said.

"But in a society where the standards of politics has fallen so much - I am talking about world society - we lose the sense of building society, of social co-existence, and social co-existence is built on dialogue."

He spoke of "political debates on television where even before one (candidate) finishes talking, he is interrupted."

Francis did not single out any countries for criticism. Italian political talk shows are often shrill and last year's US presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were peppered with insults.

In one debate last September, for example, Trump called Clinton a "nasty woman" and she accused him of having "engaged in racist behavior".

Francis urged everyone to seek "the patience of dialogue".

He added: "Wars start inside our hearts, when I am not able to open myself to others, to respect others, to talk to others, to dialogue with others, that is how wars begin."

The pope also warned against anti-immigrant movements, which have grown in the United States and a number of European countries, including Italy.

"Migrations are not a danger. They are a challenge for growth," he said, adding it was important to integrate immigrants into host countries so they keep their traditions while learning new ones in a process of mutual enrichment.

He said immigrants should be welcomed "first of all as human brothers and sisters. They are men and women just like us." 

Reuters
            [post_title] => Stop Hurling Insults and Listen, Pope Francis Tells Politicians
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            [post_content] => Vatican City. Pope Francis issued a stinging criticism of atrocities against Myanmar's Rohingya minority on Wednesday (08/02), saying they had been tortured and killed simply because they wanted to live their culture and Muslim faith.

The pope's remarks at his weekly audience followed last week's UN report that said security forces in the north of the country had carried out mass killings, gang rapes and had burned villages.

"They have been suffering for years, they have been tortured, killed simply because they wanted to live their culture and their Muslim faith," the pope said.

"They have been thrown out of Myanmar, moved from one place to the other because no one wants them. But they are good people, peaceful people. They are not Christian. They are good people. They are our brothers and sisters," he said.

After the report was issued on Friday, the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, said Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi had promised to investigate the allegations.

Myanmar, a mostly Buddhist country, had previously denied almost all allegations of human rights abuses against Muslims in the north. The pope is expected to visit neighboring Bangladesh later this year.

Witnesses cited in the UN report testified to "the killing of babies, toddlers, children, women and elderly; opening fire at people fleeing; burning of entire villages; massive detention; massive and systematic rape and sexual violence; deliberate destruction of food and sources of food". 

Reuters
            [post_title] => Pope Issues Stinging Criticism of Myanmar's Treatment of Rohingya
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                            [caption] => Pope Francis leads his Wednesday general audience at Paul VI auditorium hall in Vatican City February 8, 2017. (Reuters Photo/Tony Gentile)
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