Pope, world’s Christians join in prayer to end coronavirus

Pope Francis speaks ahead of reciting the "Our Father" from a library inside the Vatican as a response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, after calling for Christians all over the world to recite the prayer together at noon, at the Vatican, March 25, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 March 2020

Pope, world’s Christians join in prayer to end coronavirus

  • Francis invited all other Christian leaders and individual Christians on Sunday to recite the ‘Our Father’ prayer
  • There are about 2.3 billion Christians in the world, of whom some 1.3 billion are Roman Catholics

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis and Christians worldwide recited “The Lord’s Prayer” on Wednesday to ask God to stop the coronavirus pandemic which has infected nearly half a million people, disrupted countless lives and shut down churches and other public venues.

Francis invited all other Christian leaders and individual Christians on Sunday to recite the ‘Our Father’ prayer simultaneously at noon Italian time (1100 GMT) on Wednesday.

“In this moment, we want to implore (God’s) mercy for a humanity so sorely tried by the coronavirus pandemic. We do it together, Christians of every Church and Community, of every tradition, of every age, language and nation,” he said.

In an introduction to the “Our Father,” which is also known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” he said it was also for “the sick and their families, health workers and those who assist them, for authorities, police forces and volunteers, for the (religious) ministers of our communities.”

There are about 2.3 billion Christians in the world, of whom some 1.3 billion are Roman Catholics.

The 83-year-old Francis prayed from inside the Vatican, where he has been holed up for the past few weeks as a precaution as Italy has imposed stringent measures to tackle what has become the world’s worst outbreak of the disease.

The pope has been holding his general audiences and Sunday blessings over the Internet and television from the official papal library instead of before crowds numbering tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.

There are over 420,000 cases of coronavirus reported across 196 countries, according to a Reuters tally at 0200 GMT on Tuesday. About 19,000 deaths are linked to the virus.

Italy has reported more than 5,000 infections in the past day alone and total infections are now almost 70,000. Italy will overtake China’s case load of 81,000 within days if the rate of infection continues at this pace.

Italy had reported 6,820 coronavirus-linked deaths as of 1700 GMT on Tuesday, the highest toll in the world.

Francis’ Easter activities next month also will be held without the direct participation of the faithful, the Vatican has said.

Masses in Italy and many other countries around the world have been suspended so that people do not gather in large numbers but most churches are still open for individual prayer.

The pope’s trip to Malta on May 31 has been indefinitely postponed and a trip to Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea that had been expected for September will most likely not take place.

This Friday, Francis will deliver an extraordinary “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing — normally given only at Christmas and Easter.

Catholics who receive the blessing, either in person or via the media, can, under certain conditions, receive a special indulgence. An indulgence is remission of punishment for sins.


Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

Afghan security personnel in front of a prison gate after an attack by Daesh that had freed hundreds in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 53 min 8 sec ago

Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

  • The attack, reportedly by Daesh, took place hours before end of cease-fire

KABUL: Militants have stormed a prison in eastern Afghanistan and released hundreds of prisoners, officials said.

The attack on the main prison in Jalalabad, in Nangarhar province, where several hundred Daesh fighters have been detained, began on Sunday afternoon with a car bomb detonated at the entrance to the jail.
The attack came hours before the end of a three-day ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who immediately denied any involvement in the assault. Several Western media outlets reported that the Daesh had claimed responsibility.
The Nangarhar governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, told Arab News that there was still gunfire on Monday morning, and that more than 20 civilians and personnel and three attackers have died in the fighting.
Two local security sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that nearly half of the prison’s 1,500 inmates managed to flee.
They said 20 assailants made their way into the prison and a number of explosions were heard from inside the jail.
Residents said one group of attackers was firing on the jail from a nearby building and they reported heavy and sustained exchanges of small fire.
According to Khogyani, most of the escapees have been caught. He gave no further details about the attack.
The assault comes amid official claims that Daesh leaders have been arrested or killed in recent months, notably in Nangarhar, which used to be the group’s bastion.
“This is a major embarrassment for the government, which every now and then claims to have wiped out or paralyzed the Daesh. The government needs to answer why such a high security lapse has happened,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal said.
The Eid Al-Adha ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government forces was a part of efforts to begin long-awaited peace talks following a US-Taliban agreement signed in Qatar in late February.
In accordance with the deal, the Taliban is releasing 1,000 Afghan troops in exchange for 5,000 militants held by President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
The process is near completion, but Kabul is refusing to free 400 remaining Taliban inmates, saying they have been behind “heinous crimes.”
After Eid prayers on Sunday, Ghani announced he would summon a traditional grand assembly, Loya Jirga, to help him decide whether the rest of Taliban prisoners should be freed.
The assembly is scheduled to start on Aug. 7. Loya Jirga has deep roots in Afghan history and tradition and is usually summoned during times of crisis or emergency.
The Taliban have voiced their opposition to the convocation of the jirga. Their Qatar-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told TOLO News that Kabul’s decision would only complicate the peace process.
Afghan politicians are divided on the jirga announcement. Hamidullah Tokhi, a member of parliament from southern Zabul province, said: “The nation and parliament have deep doubts about Ghani’s goal for summoning the jirga to decide over the fate of 400 Taliban.
“All of the 4,500 Taliban already freed were involved in some sort of bloody attacks. Why did the government not ask for the jirga on the overall release of the Taliban?”
“Summoning the jirga now is a treason to this country and a clear blocking of the peace process,” he said.
Torek Farhadi, who served in the previous government as an adviser, said Ghani hopes that the victory of Democrats in the upcoming US elections, would sideline Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan who struck the Qatar deal with the Taliban, allowing Kabul to be in charge of the peace process.
“We should have one Loya Jirga to discuss substantive matters on peace with the Taliban and the type of future regime,” Farhadi said, adding that the Taliban, too, should participate in the assembly. “This meeting would be like a half-baked national dialogue (if it is) conducted by only one side of the conflict.”