Pope Francis heads to Panama for giant youth meeting

A banner welcoming Pope Francis is seen in Calidonia borough ahead of Pope Francis visit for World Youth Day in Panama City on January 17, 2019. (REUTERS/Erick Marciscano)
Updated 20 January 2019

Pope Francis heads to Panama for giant youth meeting

  • The prelate will use the gathering to address the problems of poverty, corruption and migration in his native Latin America
  • His last visit to the region last year was overshadowed by protests over the cover-up by church authorities of pedophile priests

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will make his first trip to Panama on Wednesday for a gathering of more than 150,000 young Catholics from across the globe at the World Youth Day festival.
The 82-year-old pope will use the major event on the Catholic calendar to address the problems of poverty, corruption and migration in his native Latin America, church officials said.
“Our youth, particularly in Central America, need opportunities,” said Panama Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa.
Often, their “hard reality” was a choice between emigration or “falling into the clutches of drug traffickers,” said Ulloa, in Rome for a preparatory visit.
It will be Francis’ third World Youth Day event, having presided over the gathering in Rio de Janeiro shortly after his election as pope in 2013 and again in Krakow, Poland in 2016.
In Poland, he challenged conservative governments in Central and Eastern Europe to soften their resistance to migrants seeking refuge from conflict in the Middle East.
In a similar way, he is expected in Panama to stand up for migrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras who make up the majority of those traveling in caravans to the US border, despite the opposition of President Donald Trump and the American right.
“Many of the young people who are participating in the WYD are immigrants themselves,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said.
Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans cross the border into Mexico every year, heading north in search of a better life. Millions more have fled economic collapse and political repression in Venezuela, straining social services in neighboring countries.
“The recent image of migrant caravans from Central America, with all their suffering, will be very much in mind,” said Ulloa.


In an advance message to the event, Francis said many young people, both believers and non-believers, had “a strength that can change the world.”
On Friday, he said in a separate video message to the World Indigenous Youth gathering in Soloy, Panama, to hold on to their cultures and roots by fighting marginalization, exclusion, waste and impoverishment.
“Return to native cultures. Take care of the roots, because from the roots comes the strength that will make you grow, prosper and bear fruit,” he told hundreds of young indigenous Catholics who will join the WYD gathering next week.
Fighting poverty will be a key theme. Extreme poverty in Latin America hit its highest level for nine years in 2017, according to a report by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
It said more than 10 percent of Latin Americans — 62 million people — were living in “extreme poverty.”
The Argentine pontiff lands in Panama on Wednesday after a 13-hour flight from Rome to begin his seventh trip to his native Latin America.
“The pope wants to get closer to young people, to those who are suffering, to send a message of hope,” said Gisotti.
His last visit to the region, to Peru and Chile a year ago, was overshadowed by protests over the cover-up by church authorities of pedophile priests.
“It’s a subject which is generating a lot of attention in the church,” said Gisotti, who said the pope had “no plans to meet with victims” during his visit to Panama.
The pope will break away from the celebrations on Friday to visit a juvenile detention center in Pacora, outside Panama City. It was Francis’ personal wish to do the side visit, the spokesman said.
“That’s something that came from the pope’s heart,” according to Gisotti.
He will also visit a center for young people with AIDS on the last day of his trip.
It is the first time Francis has visited Panama as pope, in what will be the 26th trip of his papacy, taking in 40 countries. John Paul II visited the tiny Central American country for a day during a regional tour in 1983.
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Macron backs month of Brexit talks as Johnson visits

Updated 22 August 2019

Macron backs month of Brexit talks as Johnson visits

  • Macron has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement regarding Ireland
  • The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints in Ireland

PARIS: French leader Emmanuel Macron backed the idea of a month of further talks to find a solution to Brexit while ruling out major compromises as he met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for talks on Thursday.
Like German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, Macron supported allowing another 30 days to find a solution to the vexed issue of the Irish border which has bedevilled negotiations since 2017.
“We need to try to have a useful month,” Macron said alongside Johnson who insisted that solutions were “readily available” to prevent checkpoints returning in divided Ireland.
But Macron, who admitted he had a reputation as the “hardest in the gang” on Brexit, has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement for Ireland negotiated between the EU and former British premier Theresa May.
At stake is the so-called “backstop,” which is a provision guaranteeing that border checks will not return between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland which is part of Britain.
Johnson considers the backstop to be “anti-democratic” and an affront to British sovereignty because it will require London to keep its regulations aligned with the EU during a transition exit period.
“The technical solutions are readily available (to avoid checkpoints) and they have been discussed at great length,” Johnson said. “You can have trusted trader schemes, you can have electronic pre-clearing.”
The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints which could lead to a return of fighting on the divided island where anti-British violence has claimed thousands of lives.
“I want to be very clear. In the coming month, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that is far from the fundamentals,” Macron said at the Elysee palace in central Paris.
Since Johnson’s ascent to power last month, the chances of a “no deal” Brexit on October 31 have risen, which economists see as likely to wreak economic damage on Britain and the EU.
“The EU and member states need to take the possibility of a ‘no deal’ outcome much more seriously than before,” a senior EU official told reporters in Brussels on Thursday on condition of anonymity.
A French official said on Wednesday that this was becoming the “most likely” scenario.
The Paris visit was the second leg of Johnson’s first foreign trip as prime minister.
On Wednesday, he was in Berlin for talks with Merkel who appeared to offer a glimmer of hope by saying Britain should try to find a breakthrough to the issue over the next month.
“I want a deal,” Johnson told Macron. “I think we can get a deal and a good deal.”
He added that he had been “powerfully encouraged” by his talks with Merkel. “I admire that ‘can do’ spirit that she seemed to have.”
But many Brexit watchers see Merkel’s remarks as fitting a pattern in which she has often been more conciliatory in public about Brexit than Macron, whose abrasive remarks have caused anger in London in the past.
“There is not the width of cigarette paper between Paris and Berlin on these issues,” a senior aide to Macron said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
The EU official in Brussels added that the EU was “a little concerned based on what we heard yesterday (in Berlin).”
“We are waiting for new facts, workable ideas,” the official added.
Johnson, who has deployed his French language skills to charm diplomats in Paris before, has staked his leadership on withdrawing Britain from the EU by the current deadline of October 31 — “do or die.”
Some analysts see a risk of relations between Macron and Johnson becoming stormy in public, which could lead to a blame game about a “no deal” Brexit.
Johnson reportedly once called the French “turds” over their stance on Brexit during his time as foreign secretary — remarks he later said he could not recall.
But Macron pre-empted any attempt to deflect blame onto the European side during a press conference on Wednesday before Johnson’s arrival.
“It will be the responsibility of the British government, always, because firstly it was the British people that decided Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50,” he said.
Article 50 is the legal mechanism used by EU members states to withdraw from the bloc which was triggered by Britain in March 2017.
At the weekend, Macron, Merkel and Johnson will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of both Brexit and Johnson, at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.