AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis visits Erbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour

AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis visits Erbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour
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Pope Francis stands up before holding a prayer at the Grand Immaculate Church in Qaraqosh, Iraq on March 7, 2021. (Reuters)
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Pope Francis is greeted by people as he arrives at the Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh. (AFP)
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Pope Francis faces the public at a square near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in Mosul on March 7, 2021. (AFP)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis visits Erbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour
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Pope Francis speaks at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in Mosul on March 7, 2021.
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis visits Erbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour
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Iraqis gather in the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in the northern city of Mosul ahead of the Pope Francis’ visit on March 7, 2021. (AFP)
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Pope Francis greets Iraqis dressed in traditional outfits upon his arrival at Irbil airport on March 7, 2021. (AFP)
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Iraqi women dressed in traditional outfits hold palm leaves as they welcome Pope Francis upon his arrival at Irbil airport on March 7, 2021. (AFP)
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Pope Francis is greeted by children up on his arrival at Baghdad’s Saint Joseph Cathedral on the second day of the first papal visit to Iraq on March 6, 2021.
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Worshippers sit in the courtyard outside Baghdad’s Saint Joseph Cathedral ahead of a mass attended by Pope Francis on March 6, 2021. (AFP)
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Pope Francis stands with of Iraqi religious figures during an interfaith service at the House of Abraham in the ancient city of Ur on March 6, 2021. (AFP)
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Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani meets with Pope Francis at his home in Najaf, Iraq on March 6, 2021. (Ayatollah Sistani’s Media Office/AFP)
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Pope Francis holds a mass at Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil, Iraq, March 7, 2021. (Reuters)
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Pope Francis walks with an incense censer as he leads mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Arbil, on March 7, 2021. (AFP)
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Pope Francis blesses a statue of the Virgin Mary that was vandalized by Daesh in Karemlash as he celebrates mass in Irbil. (AP)
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Chanters sing religious hymns during mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Arbil, on March 7, 2021. (AFP)
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Pope Francis leads a mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil, Iraq March 7, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 March 2021

AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis visits Erbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour

AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis visits Erbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour
  • Pope Francis spent much of Saturday in the air, touching down in three Iraq cities

DUBAI:  Pope Francis vowed Sunday to keep Iraq in his heart, as he concluded the largest mass and final public event of a historic trip meant to encourage the country's dwindling Christian community and deepen interfaith dialogue.

The pontiff celebrated among thousands of smiling worshippers in a sports stadium in the Kurdistan region's capital Erbil, after visiting Christian survivors of Daesh’s reign of terror.

The 84-year-old was driven in his white, windowless "pope-mobile" into the stadium, where jubilant worshippers sat socially distanced on white chairs spread out on the greens.

Others stood, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of Francis, in the stands ringing the Franso Hariri Stadium, named after an Iraqi Christian politician who was assassinated by extremists 20 years ago.

Follow live coverage of his third day itinerary below (All times GMT)




Pope Francis leads a mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil, Iraq March 7, 2021. (Reuters)

1516: Pope Francis promised thousands gathered for mass on Sunday in the Kurdish regional capital Erbil, the last public event of his historic trip, that he would keep Iraq in his heart.
"In my time among you, I have heard voices of sorrow and loss, but also voices of hope and consolation," he said.
"Now the time draws near for my return to Rome. Yet Iraq will always remain with me, in my heart."




Pope Francis blesses a statue of the Virgin Mary that was vandalized by Daesh in Karemlash as he celebrates mass in Irbil. (AP)

1345: Pope Francis blesses a statue of the Virgin Mary that was restored after Daesh chopped of the head and hands.

The statue was transported from the church in Keramlis, a Christian village on the Nineveh Plains, to a place of honor on the altar for Sunday’s Mass.

Keramlis, an ancient Assyrian town less than 18 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Mosul, fell to Daesh in August 2014, two months after the extremists took Mosul and surrounding areas, sending most inhabitants fleeing. In Keramlis, they destroyed the interior of St. Adday church and decapitated the statue of the Madonna.




Pope Francis holds a mass at Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil, Iraq, March 7, 2021. (Reuters)

1300: Pope Francis celebrated mass on Sunday with several thousand worshippers spread across a stadium in the Kurdistan regional capital of Erbil, the largest liturgy of his trip to pandemic-hit Iraq.
With vaccinations still extremely limited in Iraq and fears the mass could become a super-spreader event, authorities restricted attendance at the Franso Hariri stadium, which usually holds 20,000 people.




Pope Francis walks with an incense censer as he leads mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Arbil, on March 7, 2021. (AFP)

1030: Pope Francis’s meeting with the Qaraqosh community ends, and he will be on his way back to Erbil where he will later celebrate Holy Mass at the Franso Hariri stadium before heading to Baghdad.

1008: Pope Francis is urging Iraq’s long-suffering Christians to forgive the injustices committed against them by Muslim extremists and to continue persevering to rebuild the country after years of war and sectarian conflicts.
Speaking to a packed Church of the Immaculate Conception, Francis said “forgiveness” is a key word for Christians. “The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged. What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up.”




Pope Francis delivers his speech during a meeting with the Qaraqosh community at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. (AP)

0940: Pope Francis meets Christians in an ancient church torched by the Daesh group when it swept into the northern Iraqi town of Qaraqosh in 2014. After the militants were ousted from the town in 2016, the Immaculate Conception Church’s (Al-Tahera) imposing marble floors and columns were restored and the faithful gathered there to welcome the pontiff.




Pope Francis arrives at the Immaculate Conception Church to a warm welcome. (AP)

Watch Pope Francis travel to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh where he was greeted by the faithful:

 

 

 

0928: Pope Francis receives a rousing welcome as he arrives at the Immaculate Conception Church.




Pope Francis greets faithful as he arrives to hold a mass at the Immaculate Conception Church. (Iraqiya TV/Reuters TV via Reuters)

0910: Pope Francis arrives in Qaraqosh and is enroute to the Immaculate Conception Church.

WATCH: Residents of the Iraqi Christian enclave of Qaraqosh wait for the arrival of Pope Francis. Click on Twitter link below.

READ: Pope Francis’ visit provides moral support to Christians of Iraq’s Qaraqosh




People arrive to attend a mass to be held by Pope Francis near the Grand Immaculate Church in Qaraqosh, northern Iraq. (Reuters)

0804: Pope Francis has left Mosul and is off to the small Christian village of Qaraqosh north of Iraq to visit the Immaculate Conception church.




Iraqi Catholics wait for Pope Francis inside the restored Immaculate Conception church. (Screengrab)

0733: Pope Francis prays for “victims of war” outside a centuries-old church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, heavily damaged by the Daesh group.
The 84-year-old pontiff said the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the broader Middle East “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind.”
“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis — who were cruelly annihilated by terrorism — and others forcibly displaced or killed,” Francis said.
The Rev. Raed Kallo, the only priest in Iraq’s second largest city, shared his story among the crowd and before the pontiff. He fled along with most of his congregation of 500 Christian families when Daesh overran the city in June 2014.




Pope Francis releases a white dove during a prayer for war victims in Mosul. (Reuters)


But he said he returned three years ago, after the extremists were defeated by Iraqi and international forces in a grueling campaign that left much of the city in ruins. He said: “My Muslim brothers received me after the liberation of the city with great hospitality and love.”
But he said only around 70 Christian families reside in Mosul today. The rest are afraid to return and many have emigrated abroad.
Also addressing the crowd was Gutayba Aagha, a Muslim and the head of the Independent Social and Cultural Council for the Families of Mosul. In words welcomed by Francis, he said: “In the name of the council I invite all our Christian brothers to return to this, their city, their properties, and their businesses.”




Pope Francis prays for war victims at Hosh Al-Bieaa (Church Square) in Mosul. (Reuters)

0709: Pope Francis is now at the Hosh Al-Bieaa (Church Square) in Mosul, where he will lead a prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war.




Pope Francis arrives at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in Mosul. (AFP)

0655: Pope Francis arrives via helicopter in Mosul, once a stronghold for Daesh and where Christians now number little more than a few dozen families.

MOSUL WAITS FOR POPE FRANCIS




Iraqi children dressed in costumes wave national flags near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in Mosul on March 7, 2021. (AFP)




Iraqis gather in the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in the northern city of Mosul ahead of the Pope Francis’ visit on March 7, 2021. (AFP)

WATCH: Preparations at Hosh Al-Bieaa (Church Square) in Mosul, where Pope Francis will lead a prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war. Click on Twitter link below.

0523: Pope Francis arrives in Irbil, and is welcomed by Prime Minister Mansour Barzani of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and other civil authorities of the region.

READ: Pope Francis’ visit brings Iraqi Kurdistan’s safe-haven status into sharp focus




Pope Francis gets a warm welcome from Iraqis dressed in traditional outfits upon his arrival at Irbil airport on March 7, 2021. (AFP)

- with agencies


Libya launches public vaccination drive

Libya launches public vaccination drive
A health worker prepares to administer the AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to a man, in Tripoli, Libya, April 17, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 April 2021

Libya launches public vaccination drive

Libya launches public vaccination drive
  • The AstraZeneca doses were delivered through the Covax program for lower and middle-income countries

TRIPOLI: Libya on Saturday launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign for the general population in Tripoli, with the elderly and healthcare workers given priority in the conflict-hit North African nation.
Those over 70 would get the AstraZeneca jab while the Russian Sputnik V vaccine would be administered to medical personnel and those aged 50-60, the National Center for Disease Control said.
NCDC head Badreddine Al-Najjar said the vaccines would be distributed across Libya “in the coming days,” adding that China’s Sinovac jab would also be available.
Libya has so far received 400,000 doses, including 200,000 Sputnik V shots, 57,600 AstraZeneca jabs and 150,000 from Turkey thought to be China’s Sinovac.
The AstraZeneca doses were delivered through the Covax program for lower and middle-income countries.
Since the pandemic emerged last year, there have been 171,131 confirmed COVID cases in Libya, including 2,882 deaths, out of a population of seven million, officials say.
On Saturday, dozens of men and women wore face masks and sat on chairs that were spread out to ensure physical distancing in the courtyard of a vaccination center in Tripoli as they waited to get a jab.
Libyan authorities have appealed on the general population, including illegal migrants, to register for vaccination and set up an electronic portal in March for that purpose.


Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor

Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor
Jarisha is made from roasted crushed wheat with added salt and spices. It is placed in a bowl over low heat and stirred well until it reaches a firm consistency. It is usually served with lamb cooked with yogurt. (Supplied)
Updated 43 min 51 sec ago

Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor

Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor
  • Due to high rates of poverty and unemployment, many initiatives have sprung up to encourage charitable acts in the past few years, with the most popular being preparation of traditional varieties of Palestinian food for donation

GAZA CITY: Muhannad Al-Heiqi was unaware of jarisha before tasting it last Ramadan after receiving a plate from his neighbor Walid Al-Hattab, who cooks it voluntarily for the people of the Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza.
But after discovering the “comfortable” taste of the dish, Al-Heiqi is ensuring that jarisha is present at the iftar table during this year’s Ramadan.
Jarisha is made from roasted crushed wheat with added salt and spices. It is placed in a bowl over low heat and stirred well until it reaches a firm consistency. It is usually served with lamb cooked with yogurt.
Younger generations in Gaza have never encountered the traditional Palestinian food that was popular before the Nakba.
But some Palestinian families in Jerusalem and West Bank are leading a revival, and now prepare it for Ramadan and wedding celebrations.
Al-Heiqi, 36, said that his 67-year-old father was “very happy” when presented with a dish of jarisha. He told Al-Heiqi that he had not tasted it for 30 years.
When Al-Hattab, 59, first cooked jarisha and distributed it to the poor during the month of Ramadan in 2018, he did not expect to receive great approval and demand.
Now in his fourth year of cooking the dish for Ramadan, Al-Hattab said: “The story began with me by chance and without planning, but today I am happy that I am a source of happiness for many, and I will maintain this habit every Ramadan for the rest of my life.”
Discussing his first time making the traditional food, he said: “It was a small quantity, not exceeding 3 kilograms of wheat. I did not know how to distribute it or whether it would satisfy people. However, I was surprised by a great turnout upon its completion, and it was sufficient at that time to feed 10 families.”
In Ramadan the following year, Al-Hattab came more prepared, filling a large container with enough jarisha to feed 100 families. The year after that, he fed 220 families. He also delivers meals sufficient for iftar and suhoor to 100 people in elderly households, and bears all the costs.
Words of praise and approval have motivated Al-Hattab to develop his charitable idea.
“I felt overjoyed when Al-Heiqi told me that his father was happy and that he had been longing to taste jarisha for a long time, but that his family could not make it,” he said.
Because it is “a dish from the time of the grandfathers,” Al-Hattab said that he is keen to encourage a revival and bequeath knowledge of the dish to his sons and daughters. He described jarisha as a nutritious and comfortable meal that is beneficial for people fasting during Ramadan.
Al-Hattab has three children who share the task of cooking jarisha and distributing it to poor residents in the neighborhood. They work daily from afternoon until iftar.
Due to high rates of poverty and unemployment, many initiatives have sprung up to encourage charitable acts in the past few years, with the most popular being preparation of traditional varieties of Palestinian food for donation.


IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity
Updated 17 April 2021

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

VIENNA: Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at an above-ground nuclear plant at Natanz, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Saturday, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials.

The move has complicated talks aimed at reviving Iran's nuclear deal with major powers as it is a big step towards producing weapons-grade uranium.

Iran had previously only reached 20% purity, and that was already a breach of the deal, which says Iran can only enrich to 3.67%.

Iran made the step up to 60% in response to an explosion that damaged equipment at the larger, underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. Tehran has blamed Israel and named a man wanted in connection with the blast.

“The Agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6 enriched up to 60%... at the (above-ground) Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.

A confidential IAEA report to member states seen by Reuters provided more details.

“According to Iran's declaration to the Agency, the enrichment level of the UF6 produced at PFEP was 55.3% U-235. The Agency took a sample of the produced UF6 for destructive analysis to independently verify the enrichment level declared by Iran. The results of this analysis will be reported by the Agency in due course,” the report said.


Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
Ghada Aoun. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 17 April 2021

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
  • Prosecutor’s stand sparks calls for judiciary to ‘rise up against corruption’

BEIRUT: Controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun carried out a second raid on a money exchange in northern Lebanon on Saturday in defiance of a senior judiciary decision dismissing her from an investigation into possible currency export breaches.

Aoun was accompanied by several activists from the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) during the raid on the money exchange in the Awkar district in northern Lebanon.

Less than 24 hours earlier she raided the office with members of the security services.

Aoun remained in the money exchange for several hours on Friday in protest at her dismissal by the the discriminatory Public Prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, a decision that caused widespread anger among the Lebanese public.

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm held an emergency meeting on Saturday with Oweidat as well as Supreme Judicial Council head Judge Suhail Abboud and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Borkan Saad.

After the meeting Najm voiced her anger at the situation regarding the judiciary, saying that she refuses to be “a false witness to the decay of the judiciary and the fall of the fig leaf in this state.”

Najm said the events involving Aoun are an indication of “the failure of state institutions.”

Lebanon is facing a political and economic crisis amid disputes between state officials, a deadlock that has led to the collapse of the national currency.

However, critics accuse Aoun of a lack of respect for due process.

HIGHLIGHT

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm held an emergency meeting on Saturday with Oweidat as well as Supreme Judicial Council head Judge Suhail Abboud and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Borkan Saad.

There are six criminal cases and 28 complaints against her before the Judicial Inspection Authority — the largest number of cases filed against any judge in the history of the Lebanese judiciary.

Aoun was investigating the Mecattaf money exchange company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad.

The Supreme Judicial Council dismissed Aoun along with two other judges who had previously been suspended by the Disciplinary Council for Judges.

Judge Oweidat on Friday asked the Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, to suspend the officers who accompanied Aoun on the exchange office raid.

People in Lebanon on Friday watched on TV as Aoun requested that the money exchange office be sealed because the owner, Michel Mecattaf, refused to provide her with details of currency transfers on behalf of banks.

Earlier, Mecattaf’s agents informed Aoun that she had been dismissed from the case.

Aoun remained alone for hours inside the office after state security personnel left. A medical team checked on her after her blood pressure rose, and she left the premises soon after. Later she stepped on to the balcony of her home to wave to FPM supporters, who gathered outside to offer support.

After Aoun’s second raid on Saturday, the head of the Mecattaf financial company accused her supporters of “breaking into private property by force.”

Mecattaf described the case as “eminently political,” saying that he is “a witness and not a convict.”

Najm described the events as “unacceptable.”

“I am not in a position to please this political party or that team. We want an effective and independent judiciary. The problem is not the laws — oversight and accountability have been absent for years,” she said.

Najm also said that “the judiciary is incapable of fighting corruption,” and called on judges to “rise up against this reality.”

She added: “There is a lack of confidence in the judiciary, and this is a major insult.”

Retired General Prosecutor Hatem Madi told Arab News: “Judge Oweidat’s decision shows that some judges are working independently, but things must be put to rights. Regardless of whether Oweidat’s decision was right or wrong, the public prosecution offices in Lebanon must be an integrated unit.”

The decision to dismiss Aoun revived a political dispute between the FPM and the Future Movement, the two parties in conflict over the formation of the government.

The FPM, headed by MP Gebran Bassil, said that it will “continue to expose every file related to the fight against corruption,” saluting “every judge who rightfully performs their duties despite the injustice to which they are sometimes exposed.”

The Future Movement said that “mourning for judges after encouraging them to violate laws and asking them to open discretionary files for opponents is a matter that no longer fools any of the Lebanese people.”

 


Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus
Updated 17 April 2021

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus
  • His son Abdul-Rahman Yusuf Al-Qaradawi confirmed that the cleric had coronavirus on Twitter

LONDON: Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar and infamous for his controversial religious edicts, has contracted COVID-19.
“Sheikh Al-Qaradawi has been infected with the coronavirus and he is in good condition, praise be to God. He is receiving health care, reassures his followers, and asks you to pray for his recovery and good health,” his official Twitter account stated.


The news was also reported by Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu.
His son Abdul-Rahman Yusuf Al-Qaradawi confirmed that the cleric had coronavirus on Twitter and said his father had been vaccinated against the virus previously. He also requested prayers for his father.
Al-Qaradawi is 94 years old and is the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, head of the European council for Fatwa and Research and co-founder of IslamOnline.net.