Pope hopes for peace in Yemen, Syria and other flashpoints

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This handout picture released by the Vatican press office on December 25, 2018 at St Peter's square in Vatican shows Pope Francis waving from the balcony of St Peter's basilica during the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Christmas message to the city and the world. (AFP / Vatican Press Office)
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Pope Francis waves after delivering the “Urbi et Orbi” message from the main balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, December 25, 2018. (Reuters)
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Members of Swiss Guard are seen as Pope Francis delivers the “Urbi et Orbi” message from the main balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, December 25, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 25 December 2018
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Pope hopes for peace in Yemen, Syria and other flashpoints

  • The pontiff said he hoped a truce in Yemen would end the war there
  • He also said he hoped for renewed peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis offered a Christmas wish for fraternity among people of different nations, cultures, faiths, races or ideas, describing the world's differences as a richness, not a danger, and championing the rights of religious minorities.
His plea Tuesday for stronger bonds among peoples came as nationalism and a suspicion of migrants are gaining traction across much of the globe.
The long war in Syria, famine amid warfare in Yemen, social strife in Venezuela and Nicaragua, conflicts in Ukraine and tensions on the Korean Peninsula were among the pope's concerns in his Christmas Day message, which he read from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.
Addressing some 50,000 tourists, pilgrims and Romans who flocked to St. Peter's Square on a mild, sunny day, Francis said the universal message of Christmas is that "God is a good Father and we are all brothers and sisters."
"This truth is the basis of the Christian vision of humanity," Francis said in the traditional papal "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the city and the world") message. Without fraternity, he said, "even our best plans and projects risk being soulless and empty." He called for that spirit among individuals of "every nation and culture" as well as among people "with different ideas, yet capable of respecting and listening to one another."
"Our differences, then, are not a detriment or a danger; they are a source of richness," Francis said.
Francis prayed that all minorities have their right to religious freedom respected, noting that some Christians were celebrating Christmas "in difficult, if not hostile, situations."
Communist China is witnessing a systematic suppression of religion, including some restrictions on Christmas celebrations this year. The government's suppression campaign includes re-education camps for Uighur Muslims and a crackdown on Christian churches.
Without specifying religions or countries, Francis prayed for "all those people who experience ideological, cultural and economic forms of colonization and see their freedom and identity compromised."
Francis urged the international community to find a political solution that "can put aside divisions and partisan interests" and end the war in Syria. He said he hoped that an internationally-brokered truce for Yemen would bring relief to that country's people, especially children, "exhausted by war and famine."
He encouraged dialogue among Israelis and Palestinians to end conflict "that for over 70 years has rent the land chosen by the Lord to show his face of love."
In Africa, Francis recalled the millions fleeing warfare or in need of food, and prayed for "a new dawn of fraternity to arise over the entire continent."
Francis urged Venezuelans to "work fraternally for the country's development and to aid the most vulnerable." Millions of Venezuelans are fleeing their country's economic and humanitarian crisis in what has become the largest exodus in modern Latin American history, according to the United Nations.
On Monday night, the 82-year-old pope celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.


Trump fan to plead guilty to 2018 package bombs

Updated 11 sec ago
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Trump fan to plead guilty to 2018 package bombs

  • The package bombs’ intended recipients included billionaire philanthropist George Soros, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama
  • Cesar Sayoc’s criminal record dates back to 1991

NEW YORK: A fan of US President Donald Trump who mailed parcel bombs to prominent Democratic figures last October was set to appear in court Thursday, where he was expected to plead guilty to some of the 30 charges against him.
Cesar Sayoc, 57, who was arrested in Florida on October 26 following a massive manhunt, was due in federal court in New York at 4:00 p.m.
Although it was not known which charges he would plead guilty to, all relate to the 16 package bombs he is accused of mailing from a Florida post office to several well-known people who oppose Trump, as well as the Manhattan offices of CNN. He previously pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The packages’ intended recipients included billionaire philanthropist George Soros, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama, former vice president Joe Biden, actor Robert De Niro and several Democratic lawmakers, including 2020 presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
None of the packages exploded or even reached their targets and authorities questioned the actual danger they posed.
But by targeting Democrats, Sayoc — who also goes by the alias Cesar Altieri and was identified by DNA recovered from the packages — helped contribute to heightened tensions during the US midterm election campaign season.
Sayoc’s partial guilty plea Thursday could help mitigate the severity of a sentence if he is convicted on all counts.
As his trial loomed, information from Sayoc’s past began to filter into the public sphere, fueling the debate about extremism in the age of Trump and social media — a debate that grew more urgent as 11 people were shot dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue later in October.
Estranged from his family and in financial distress, Sayoc lived in a white van plastered in stickers proclaiming his admiration for the US president.
His criminal record dates back to 1991, peppered with convictions for theft, fraud, violence and a threat to bomb his electric utility company.
A former strip club manager and an adept bodybuilder and martial arts practitioner, Sayoc discovered a passion for Trump just as his political star was rising.
His social media posts took a politically radical turn: he’s seen wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, sharing pro-Trump images and posting articles from ultra-conservative and conspiracy-driven websites such as Infowars and Breitbart.
“He was very angry and angry at the world, at blacks, Jews, gays,” recalled Debra Gureghian, the general manager of a Florida pizzeria where Sayoc worked as a delivery driver for several months.
Lawyer Ron Lowy, who defended Sayoc in 2002 and remained close to his family, described him on NPR in October as someone whose “intellect is limited, and who is “like a little boy in a man’s body.”