Pope urges peace, not politics in call to Russian patriarch

A photo taken on Wednesday by The Vatican Media shows Pope Francis talking with Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill during a virtual audience via videolink in The Vatican. (AFP)
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Updated 16 March 2022
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Pope urges peace, not politics in call to Russian patriarch

  • The call was all the more remarkable because Francis and Kirill have only met once
  • A Vatican statement said both men agreed that the church "must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus”

ROME: Pope Francis rejected the concept of a “just war” and stressed the need for peace in a video call Wednesday with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
This is the first known communication between the two Christian leaders since the start of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The call was all the more remarkable because Francis and Kirill have only met once — at the Havana airport in 2016 — in what was then the first encounter between a pope and Russian patriarch in over 1,000 years.
A Vatican statement said both men agreed that the church “must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus” and stressed the importance of negotiations to reach a cease-fire.
“Those who pay the price for the war are the people, it is the Russian soldiers and the people who are bombed and die,” the Vatican quoted Francis as saying.
Wednesday’s call came just hours after Francis evoked the specter of a “final catastrophe” of an atomic war that would extinguish humanity. While Francis didn’t reference Ukraine explicitly in that part of his speech during his weekly audience, he did elsewhere call for prayers for Ukraine and for God to protect its children and forgive those who make war.
Francis’ long-term goal to improve relations with Kirill and avoid antagonizing the Russian Orthodox Church had explained his initially tepid responses to the Feb. 24 start of the Russian invasion. He has since stepped up his denunciations, demanding “an end to this massacre,” and labeling the invasion an “unacceptable armed aggression.”
But he has not condemned Russia by name for the onslaught or publicly urged Kirill to use his influence with Russian President Vladimir Putin to demand an end to the war, as other Catholic bishops and Orthodox leaders have done. The Vatican has a tradition of quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy and tends to not call out aggressors.
In fact, Francis’ comment about Russian soldiers paying the price for the war marked the first time he had publicly referenced Russia.
Kirill has said he appreciated the Holy See’s moderate tone.
Kirill, though, has sent signals justifying the war by describing it as part of a struggle against sin and pressure from liberal foreigners to hold “gay parades” as the price of admission to their ranks. He has blamed the West and a fellow Orthodox patriarch for fomenting enmity between Ukraine and Russia.
According to the website of Kirill’s church, he and Francis — flanked by top officials of both churches — spoke about the situation in Ukraine, particularly the humanitarian aspects, and efforts by both churches to overcome the problems.
“The parties stressed the exceptional importance of the ongoing negotiation process, expressing their hope for the soonest achievement of a just peace,” the Russian church said.
The Vatican, in its readout of the conversation, did not reference a “just peace,” and in fact quoted Francis as saying the traditional Christian concept of a “just war” was no longer possible.
“Once upon a time there was also talk in our churches of a ‘holy war’ or ‘just war,’” the Vatican quoted Francis as saying. “Today we cannot speak like this. Christian awareness of the importance of peace has developed.”
Francis has previously said it was permissible to use force to stop an “unjust aggression,” referring in 2014 to the US military action to stop extremists from attacking religious minorities in Iraq. But he stressed then that such action could not become a pretext to launch an actual war, merely to stop an “unjust aggression.”
“Wars are always unjust. Because those who pay are the people of God,” Francis told Kirill on Wednesday. “Our hearts cannot help but cry in front of the children, the women killed, all the victims of war. War is never the way. The Spirit who unites us asks us as shepherds to help the peoples who suffer from war.”
The phone call came hours before Francis’ deputy, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, celebrated a Mass for peace in Ukraine for ambassadors accredited to the Holy See. The Ukrainian and Russian ambassadors attended, and prayers were read out in Russian and Ukrainian, including by a woman wearing a blue and yellow ribbon on her lapel, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
And on Friday, Francis is to celebrate a Mass during which he will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Virgin Mary in a ritual that holds deep significance for the Catholic faithful. According to tradition, one of the so-called secrets of Fatima concerns the consecration of Russia to “the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” prophesizing that peace will follow if the consecration is done.
St. John Paul II performed the consecration on March 25, 1984, though he didn’t specify Russia by name, and Francis will repeat the gesture 38 years later. On the same day, Francis’ chief alms-giver, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who recently returned from a humanitarian mission to Ukraine, will celebrate a consecration Mass in Fatima, Portugal, the site of the early 20th century Marian apparitions that formed the basis of the “secrets of Fatima.”
Kirill’s ties to the Russian government and justification for the war have posed a diplomatic and ecumenical problem for the Vatican, which had offered itself up as a potential mediator. Francis visited the Russian ambassador soon after the initial invasion and spoke by phone with the Ukrainian president.
Kirill, for his part, has rebuffed calls for him to act as a mediator. In a March 10 letter to an official of the World Council of Churches — who had urged Kirill to mediate with Russian authorities to stop the war – Kirill faulted the West for the eastern expansion of NATO.
He also faulted Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople – considered first among equals of Eastern Orthodox prelates, though lacking the universal authority of a pope – for recognizing the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.


Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine

Updated 6 sec ago
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Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine

  • Israel’s ‘systematic misinformation campaigns’ aim to ‘cover its brutality and genocidal massacres’ in Gaza, OIC says
  • At least 88 journalists have been killed in Palestine since Israel’s onslaught on Gaza began in October 

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s state minister for information has proposed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation create a collaborative digital platform to combat Israel’s disinformation campaign against Palestine, as the Muslim grouping launches new plans to expose Tel Aviv’s war crimes. 

Information ministers of OIC member countries were in Turkiye over the weekend for an extraordinary session discussing Israel’s disinformation campaign and attacks on journalists in Gaza, where nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since October. 

State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mohammed Ali Arafat said Israel’s “despicable disinformation campaign” is an attempt to cover its blatant war crimes in Gaza, including the indiscriminate targeting of babies and children, as well as journalists and humanitarian workers. 

“The world has hardly seen the continued killing of journalists and the spreading of disinformation as is happening in Gaza. I believe fighting to contain and combat against such dissemination of misinformation needs collective effort,” Arafat told the participants. 

At least 88 journalists and media workers were among the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed in over four months since Israel began its onslaught on Gaza, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists. 

“We need to create a collaborative digital platform to combat the spreading of such disinformation against Palestine. I request the OIC Secretariat to prepare a plan in this regard immediately,” Arafat said. 

Bangladesh is ready to support the OIC in establishing an information pool documenting Israeli war crimes that can be regularly shared with its member states, he added. 

“Muslim Ummah must work together to stop this massacre and let the world know the truth. Bangladesh supports and stands firm by our Palestinian brothers and sisters in this dire situation.” 

In a final communique, OIC information ministers condemned Israel’s “systematic misinformation campaigns” to “cover its brutality and genocidal massacres committed in the Gaza Strip.”

The 57-member organization also condemned Israel’s “systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists,” describing it as part of a campaign to “silence the voices of truth-tellers.” 

The OIC said they are determined to collectively “counter and expose attempts by the Israel colonial occupation to cover up the destruction” in the besieged enclave, as they mandate the group’s media monitoring unit to establish an action plan to “lay bare and counter” the Israeli disinformation campaign at the international level. 


US airman who set self on fire outside Israeli embassy dies: Pentagon

Police are deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.
Updated 9 min 19 sec ago
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US airman who set self on fire outside Israeli embassy dies: Pentagon

WASHINGTON: An active member of the US Air Force has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington over the weekend in protest of the war in Gaza, the Pentagon said Monday.
An Air Force spokeswoman said the unnamed man had “succumbed to his injuries and passed away last night. We will provide additional details 24 hours after next of kin notifications are complete.”


Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

Updated 26 February 2024
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Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

  • The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army

The Russian authorities on Monday sought a prison sentence of nearly three years for a veteran human rights advocate who spoke out against the war in Ukraine.
The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army and sentenced to two years and 11 months in prison, in a retrial after he was earlier ordered to pay a fine. In a move that underscored how little tolerance President Vladimir Putin’s government has for criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, the prosecution appealed the fine, seeking a harsher punishment.
The charges against Orlov, co-chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, came after he posted on Facebook an article he wrote denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. He has rejected the case against him as politically motivated.
A court in Moscow in October 2023 delivered a guilty verdict and fined Orlov 150,000 rubles (about $1,500 at the time), a significantly milder punishment compared to the lengthy prison terms some other Russians have received for criticizing the war.
Both the defense and the prosecution appealed the verdict, and a higher court voided the fine and sent the case back to the prosecutors. A new trial began earlier this month, another step in a yearslong, unrelenting crackdown on dissent in Russia that the Kremlin ratcheted up after sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
The hearing on Monday drew over 100 supporters and more than a dozen Western diplomats, Russian independent news site Mediazona reported. Orlov brought a book to the hearing — “The Trial” by Franz Kafka — reflecting his view of the trial as absurd. At a hearing on Thursday, Orlov read the novel and refused to engage in the proceedings.


The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

Updated 26 February 2024
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The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

  • The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan
  • It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban held a public execution on Monday of a man convicted of murder in northern Afghanistan as thousands watched at a sports stadium, the third such death sentence to be carried out in the past five days.
The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province, where the brother of the murdered man shot the convict five times with a rifle, according to an eyewitness . Security around the stadium was tight, said the witness, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021 as the US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after two decades of war.
The development was ominous as the Taliban, despite initial promises of a more moderate rule, began carrying out severe punishments in public — executions, floggings and stonings — shortly after coming to power. The punishments are similar to those under their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
Taliban government officials were not immediately available for comment.
The statement said Monday’s death sentence was carried out following approval by three of the country’s highest courts and the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. The executed man, identified as Nazar Mohammad from the district of Bilcheragh in Faryab province, had killed Khal Mohammad, also from Faryab. The killing took place in Jawzjan.
On Thursday in the southeastern Ghazni province, the Taliban executed two men convicted of stabbing their victims to death. Relatives of the victims fired guns at the two men, also at a sports stadium as thousands of people watched.
Separate statements from the Taliban’s supreme court said a man and a woman convicted of adultery were flogged with 35 lashes each in northern Balkh province over the weekend. Two other people were lashed in eastern Laghman province, also over the weekend; they were given each 30 lashes for allegedly committing immoral acts.
The United Nations has strongly criticized the Taliban for carrying out public executions, lashings and stonings since seizing power, and called on the country’s rulers to halt such practices.


Anti-Muslim hate speech soars in India, research group says

Updated 26 February 2024
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Anti-Muslim hate speech soars in India, research group says

  • Research group ‘India Hate Lab’ documents 668 hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in 2023
  • Rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, India’s prime minister since 2014

Anti-Muslim hate speech in India rose by 62 percent in the second half of 2023 compared to the first six months of the year, a Washington-based research group said on Monday, adding the Israel-Gaza war played a key role in the last three months.

India Hate Lab documented 668 hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in 2023, 255 of which occurred in the first half of the year while 413 took place in the last six months of 2023, the research group said in a report released Monday.

About 75 percent, or 498, of those incidents took place in states governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the report. The states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh accounted for the most hate speech.

Between Oct. 7 — when Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel, sparking the conflict in the Gaza Strip as Israel retaliated — and Dec. 31, there were 41 incidents of hate speech against Indian Muslims that mentioned the war, the report added. It accounted for about 20 percent of hate speech in the last three months of 2023.

The research group said it used the United Nations’ definition of hate speech — prejudiced or discriminatory language toward an individual or group based on attributes including religion, ethnicity, nationality, race or gender.

Rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, who became prime minister in 2014 and is widely expected to retain power after the 2024 elections.

They point to a 2019 citizenship law that the UN human rights office called “fundamentally discriminatory;” an anti-conversion legislation that challenges the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief; and the 2019 revoking of Muslim majority Kashmir’s special status.

There has also been demolition of Muslim properties in the name of removing illegal construction and a ban on wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka when the BJP was in power in that state.

Modi’s government denies the presence of minority abuse and says its policies aim to benefit all Indians. The Indian embassy in Washington and India’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

India Hate Lab said it tracked online activity of Hindu nationalist groups, verified videos of hate speech posted on social media and compiled data of isolated incidents reported by Indian media.