Public returns to St. Peter’s Square; Pope Francis calls for defense of environment

Nuns and faithful respecting social distancing look at Pope Francis reciting the Regina Coeli noon prayer on a giant screen in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, May 24, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 24 May 2020

Public returns to St. Peter’s Square; Pope Francis calls for defense of environment

  • Few dozen people who went to the square observe social distancing rules
  • Pope Francis delivers his message via the Internet from his library

VATICAN CITY: The public returned to St. Peter’s Square on Sunday to receive Pope Francis’s blessing from his window for the first time in nearly three months as he convoked a year of reflection on the environment.
Only a few dozen people went to the square, which was reopened on Monday along with St. Peter’s Basilica following coronavirus lockdowns. They kept to social distancing rules and most wore masks.
Francis delivered his message via the Internet from his library, as those in the square watched on large screens, and then went to the window for the silent blessing. In the past three months, he has blessed an empty square.
Sunday was the fifth anniversary of his encyclical “Laudato Si” on the care of the environment, which called for a reduction of fossil fuels and backed the majority scientific consensus that human activity is partly to blame for global warming.
He urged Catholics to reflect on the environment for the next twelve months, how they can better protect it and how to help those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
He also sent special greetings to Catholics in mainland China on the day they celebrate a national religious feast day.
Catholics in China are emerging from more than half a century of division which saw them split between a state-backed “official” Church and a “non-official” underground Church loyal to Rome.
In 2018, the Holy See and Beijing signed a historic pact on the naming of bishops, meaning all bishops recognized the pope’s authority.
But there have been hiccups. In June, the Vatican asked Beijing to stop intimidating clergy who refuse to sign an official government registration.
The deal, which is up for renewal in September, has split Catholics in China and around the world, with some critics saying the pope caved in to the Communist government.


Iran deal architect among veterans named for Biden State Department

Updated 4 min 56 sec ago

Iran deal architect among veterans named for Biden State Department

WASHINGTON: The lead US negotiator of the Iran nuclear accord and a battle-tested hawk on Russia were named Saturday to top posts at President-elect Joe Biden’s State Department, signaling a return to normal after Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency.
Wendy Sherman, who brokered the Iran accord under Barack Obama and negotiated a nuclear deal with North Korea under Bill Clinton, was named as deputy secretary of state.
Victoria Nuland, a former career diplomat best known for her robust support for Ukrainian protesters in the ouster of a Russian-aligned president, was nominated under secretary for political affairs — the State Department’s third-ranking post in charge of day-to-day US diplomacy.
Biden said that the State Department nominees “have secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory.”
“I am confident that they will use their diplomatic experience and skill to restore America’s global and moral leadership. America is back,” Biden said in a statement.
The State Department team will work under secretary of state-designate Antony Blinken, whose confirmation hearing will take place on Tuesday on the eve of Biden’s inauguration.
Blinken said that the State Department team, with women and ethnic minorities in prominent positions, “looks like America.”
“America at its best still has a greater capacity than any other country on earth to mobilize others to meet the challenges of our time,” Blinken said.
The optimism comes amid rising doubts about US leadership in Trump’s waning days after his supporters ransacked the Capitol on January 6 to try to stop the ceremonial certification of Biden’s victory.
Under outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a staunch defender of Trump, the United States has aggressively challenged Iran and China, robustly backed Israel and toyed with improving ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while also imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Sherman’s nomination marks another clear sign that Biden wants to return to the accord under which Iran drastically slashed its nuclear program in exchange for promises of sanctions relief.
Trump exited the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions in what many observers saw as an unsuccessful attempt to topple the Shiite clerical regime.