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
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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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Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

In this Sept. 21, 2014 file photo, Denis Baupin, a prominent Green Party member and former Paris city official, takes part in a climate change demonstration in Paris. (AP)
Updated 54 min 39 sec ago
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Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

  • The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law

PARIS: A Paris court has dismissed a defamation case against six women who accused a former French lawmaker of sexual misconduct and the journalists who reported the allegations.
The court on Friday ordered Denis Baupin to pay 1,000 euros ($1,120) in damages to each of the 12 people he sued.
In May 2016, investigative website Mediapart and radio station France Inter published and broadcast accounts from 14 women who alleged Baupin had groped, sexted or otherwise harassed them.
The prominent Green Party member resigned as vice president of the lower House of Parliament but denied wrongdoing and launched a defamation lawsuit against the six women who were identified in the reports, some witnesses and journalists.
The case had been under particular scrutiny in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Women rights activists have seen it as a test of French women’s ability to speak out when they think powerful men have sexually harassed or abused them — and how journalists can report it.
The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law.
In addition, it considered France Inter and Mediapart respected their additional obligations: the legitimacy of journalists’ goals in producing a story, demonstrating an absence of personal animosity, prudence and balance, and the quality of the investigation.
Most of the women who spoke about Baupin’s alleged behavior from 1998 to 2013 were fellow Green Party members, and outrage greeted their descriptions.
Four filed criminal complaints for sexual harassment at the time. A nine-month judicial investigation ended without charges. Prosecutors said the three-year statute of limitations had expired, but released a statement saying the women’s “measured, constant statements” and witness corroboration created a set of facts to support allegations of actions that “may for some of them be classified as criminal.”
The cleared women greeted the ruling with tears of joy and relief.
Lawyer Claire Moleon, a lawyer for one of them, told The Associated Press that “this is a great victory.”
“This is a very strong signal given by justice. It’s putting an end to a move that we were noticing to use defamation lawsuits to put more pressure on the victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse,” she said.
Moleon stressed that Baupin’s order to pay damages to the people he sent on trial shows that “sanctions apply” to such cases.
During the February trial, women had described, often with lots of emotion, their alleged harassment through text messages and inappropriate comments, and in some cases, alleged sexual assault attempts.
Some former officials of France’s Green Party also testified in court, saying they should have acted earlier on reports of sexual misconduct. They stressed that the #MeToo movement has raised their awareness.
Baupin’s lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat, had argued his client did nothing illegal and had filed a defamation lawsuit to “fully clear his name.”
Baupin had decided not to attend the trial.