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Pope Francis Holds Private Chat With Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah

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Pope Francis has begun the second day of his visit in Iraq by flying to Najaf for a private conversation with Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Al-Husayni Al-Sistani.

Before meeting with the Grand Ayatollah, the Pope was met by his son Mohammed Rida.

Al Sistani can be defined as “rabbani”, which means “wise religious man”, “in the sense that besides having made a very deep and wide study of theology, of the history of the Koran, of Islamic tradition and law, he is above all a spiritual figure who gathers and unifies the Iraqi people.”

Najaf is located about 160 km south of Baghdad, 30 km from ancient Babylon, and 400 km north of the biblical city of Ur.

It was was founded in 791 AD by Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd, and its development took place mostly after the 10th century.

Najaf is Iraq’s main Shiite religious centre and a pilgrimage destination for Shiites from around the world.

It is also home to the tomb of one of Islam’s most revered figures, Ali ibn Abi Talib, also known as Imam ʿAlī, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law and the first man to convert to Islam.

The tomb of the first Imam of the Shiites, located inside the Imam ʿAlī Mosque, is considered one of the holiest places in Islam, and is to be found near the centre of the city.

The Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Al-Husayni Al-Sistani is the leader of Iraq’s Shiites, who comprise more than 60 percent of the population and is an influential figure in global Shiism and throughout the country.

Preaching the abstention of religious authorities from direct political activity, he is considered a valuable interlocutor for the various political and religious factions in the country.

Muslim Council of Elders on Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq

The Muslim Council of Elders issues a statement regarding Pope Francis’ landmark visit to Iraq saying, “Pope Francis’ insistence on conducting the visit, despite the many challenges, is a reflection of his complete faith in human fraternity as well as his willingness to uphold equality in the face of hatred, sectarianism and conflict.”

It adds, “Pope Francis’ continued efforts in promoting peace are consistent with the Muslim Council Elders’ vision and goals of spreading peace, coexistence and communal respect while countering hate and extremism.”

“After years of destruction and war, we believe that the historic visit will help heal the wounds of the Iraqi people, while offering hope for a brighter future for Iraq and the region, one which will be filled with tolerance and coexistence,” said Muslim Council of Elders.

Pope Francis said the Catholic Church in Iraq desires to cooperate constructively with other religions in serving the cause of peace.

“The age-old presence of Christians in this land, and their contributions to the life of the nation, constitute a rich heritage that they wish to continue to place at the service of all,” he said.

“Their participation in public life, as citizens with full rights, freedoms and responsibilities, will testify that a healthy pluralism of religious beliefs, ethnicities and cultures can contribute to the nation’s prosperity and harmony,” the Pontiff said.

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Makkah Pilgrims Without Umrah Permits Face U$2,666 Fine

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Saudi Arabia announced that pilgrims who perform Umrah without a permit during the month of Ramadan will be fined as officials are trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

An official source at the Ministry of Interior said a fine of SR10,000 ($2,666) would be imposed on anyone who tries to perform Umrah without a permit, along with a SR1,000 fine for anyone who tries to enter the Grand Mosque in Makkah without a permit.

Saudi authorities are looking beyond Ramadan as the measure will be valid until the end of the pandemic or when “life returns to normal,” the source added.

The source said the ministry wants to ensure that all precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus are adhered to.

It also wants to ensure that approved regulations for performing Umrah and prayer are in line with the operational safety capacity at all Grand Mosque sites and squares.

Every pilgrim wishing to perform Umrah or prayers in the Grand Mosque must obtain a permit.

The source also said that security personnel will be on patrol at all security control centers, roads, sites and pathways leading to the central area surrounding the Grand Mosque.

Meanwhile, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif, minister of interior, who is also chairman of the Hajj Supreme Committee, approved the general emergency plan for Makkah and Madinah during Ramadan.

The director general of the General Directorate of Civil Defense, Lt. Gen. Sulaiman bin Abdullah Al-Amro, said COVID-19 inspection tours have been intensified at all facilities and sites frequented by pilgrims and visitors.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said on Thursday that the Umrah and Tawakkalna applications have been launched in their updated versions, through cooperation with the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence.

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Resurrection Of Jesus Is Hope That Does not Disappoint

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It is Easter Monday- this day holds religious significance for Christians, as it follows Easter Sunday, the day Jesus Christ was resurrected following his crucifixion on Good Friday.

It is believed that Jesus remained on earth for 40 days after his resurrection, and during this time he appeared to believers, healed the sick and spread the word of God.

The acts he carried out during this period are thought to have helped establish the first church. After the 40 days ended, Christians believe that he ascended into heaven.

The Bible itself does not say anything about what happened on Easter Monday, after Jesus’ resurrection, and it also doesn’t specifically instruct Christians to celebrate the Monday following Easter Sunday.

Pope Gives Easter Message

Pope Francis said at the start of his Easter message that “Jesus, who was crucified, has risen as He said. Alleluia!”

Due to measures against the Covid-19 Pandemic, Pope Francis delivered his Urbi et Orbi message inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Basilica featured arrays of Avalanche roses given by Dutch florists who traditionally filled St. Peter’s Square with flowers on Easter every year, but had to stop temporarily due to the pandemic.

The Easter reality of the Resurrection offers concrete, tangible hope and consolation, the Pope noted, but its message does not offer us “a mirage or reveal a magic formula” we might wish as an escape exit to the world’s difficult realities.

Among them, the spread of the pandemic, social and economic crisis hitting the poor especially, but also, he noted the “scandalous” fact that “armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened.”

The Easter message of hope tells us concisely that “the crucified Jesus, none other, has risen from the dead”, Pope Francis said, adding that God the Father raised Jesus, who accomplished His saving will by taking upon Himself our weakness, infirmities, the weight of our sins, even our death.

Because of this, the Pope said, “God the Father exalted Him and now Jesus Christ lives forever; He is the Lord.”

The wounds Jesus bears in His hands, feet and side are “the everlasting seal of His love for us”, the Pope noted, and all who experience trials in body or spirit can find refuge in them and “receive the grace of the hope that does not disappoint.”

Pope Francis went on to say that the Risen Christ gives hope and comfort for those suffering from the pandemic, the sick and those who have lost a loved one.

He also prayed that the Lord might “sustain the valiant efforts of doctors and nurses”. He stressed that everyone, especially the vulnerable, needs assistance and has a right to care, and vaccines are essential.

He appealed to the international community “to commit to overcoming delays in the distribution of vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in the poorest countries.”

The Risen Lord is comfort for the unemployed and those suffering economic difficulties, the Pope said. He prayed that Christ might “inspire public authorities to act so that everyone, especially families in greatest need” can be provided with help in order to avoid sliding into poverty, a sad reality the pandemic has dramatically worsened.

The Pope referred also to the psychological weight of the pandemic on young people, who are often forced to stay at home without attending school or visiting friends in person.

He expressed his “closeness to young people throughout the world”.

Vatican

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World’s Christians Celebrate Easter Amidst Covid-19 Pandemic

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Christians around the world are today celebrating Easter also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday.

Easter is a Christian festival and holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day after his burial following his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD.

There are over 2.3 billion adherents accounting for about 31.2% of the total world population. Rwanda’s population is more than 95% affiliated to Christian faiths. Nigeria has the largest Christian population in Africa.

Reports from the UK’s Church of Canterbury the highest seat of the Anglican faith indicate that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (pictured above) is for the first time giving his Easter sermon across television, local and national radio and the Church of England digital platforms.

A service is premiering on the Church of England website, Facebook and YouTube channels starting at 9 a.m., while viewers of BBC One are able to tune in to a live Eucharist from Canterbury at 10 a.m.

Welby’s Easter sermon proclaims the resurrection as the turning point of history. In raising Jesus to new life, he will say, God makes a “lie” of death.

For the Roman Catholics, Pope Francis their representative with seat in the Vatican is Celebrating the 9th Easter of his pontificate.

Pope Francis delivered a homily at the Easter Vigil Mass, reflecting on what it means to go to Galilee, where the Risen Lord would precede His disciples.

Reflecting on the Easter episode of the women at the tomb, the Pope drew attention to what the angel told them.   

“Wonder at hearing the words: ‘Do not be afraid!” the Pope said.  “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen’.  And a message: ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him’.”

Ushering in the 9th Easter of his pontificate, the 84-year-old pontiff in his homily reflected on what it means to go to Galilee.  First of all, it means to begin anew. 

Galilee was the place of the first encounter of the disciples with the Lord, their first love.  It was here that they listened to Him preach and perform miracles. It was also where they misunderstood His words and in the face of the cross abandoned Him and fled.   

In spite of everything, the Lord invites them to start over from where they began.  “In this Galilee,” the Pope said, “we learn to be amazed by the Lord’s infinite love, which opens new trails along the path of our defeats.”

Hence, he said, the first Easter message of returning to Galilee is that “it is always possible to begin anew despite all our failures. 

“From the rubble of our hearts,” the Pope said, “God can create a work of art; from the ruined remnants of our humanity, God can prepare a new history.” 

“In these dark months of the pandemic,” the Pope urged all to “listen to the Risen Lord as He invites us to begin anew and never lose hope”.

Going to Galilee also means going to the peripheries.  Galilee, an outpost farthest from the ritual purity of Jerusalem, was where Jesus began His mission. 

There, He brought His message to “those struggling to live from day to day, the excluded, the vulnerable and the poor”.

It is in the peripheries that God tirelessly seeks out those who are discouraged or lost.  He goes to the “very peripheries of existence, since in His eyes no one is least, no one is excluded”. 

Thus, the Risen Lord is asking His disciples to go to the settings of daily life, the streets we travel every day, the corners of our cities. 

“There the Lord goes ahead of us and makes Himself present in the lives of those around us, those who share in our day, our home, our work, our difficulties, and hopes.” 

The Pope said, “We will be amazed how the greatness of God is revealed in littleness, how His beauty shines forth in the poor and simple.”

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