By Vatican News staff writer
 
NNA - Pope Francis sent Thursday a congratulatory letter to Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Beshara Boutros al-Rahi, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his election as Patriarch of the Antioch and the Maronite community.   --    Papal Ambassador to Lebanon, Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, read out the letter following the ceremonial Mass presided over by the Patriarch marking the occasion in Bkirki today, in presence of the Maronite Church bishops and clerics.

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The Syrian conflict entered its eleventh year on 15 March 2021, bringing this “living nightmare” back to our minds.[1] This ominous anniversary should remind the world of the importance of addressing the bleak reality inside Syria. While the new US administration provides a glimmer of hope for a return to diplomacy, multilateralism and an end to the mercantilism of the past years, Europe would be wrong to simply wait for the US lead on Syria.

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The escalation of reactions of the Russian Church given the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was foretold in an interview by the Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk.

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The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development issues a press release describing the latest developments of its "WASH" project (access to drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) in health care facilities run by the Catholic Church.
 
INA - Baghdad  -  Patriarch of the Chaldeans in Iraq and the world, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, confirmed on Saturday, that returning 50 properties to Christians andSabians is a step towards encouraging them to return to their homeland.  --  Sako appreciated "the initiative of the leader of Sadrist movement, Muqtada al-Sadr,” describing this initiative as “patriotism and humanity," according to a statement by Sako to the Iraqi News Agency (INA).

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In a letter written on behalf of Pope Francis by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, bishops throughout the world are asked to avoid looking the other way when faced with the situations of so many brothers and sisters in times of need and difficulty. This year especially, there is need for generosity in the collection ‘pro Terra Sancta’, as the Holy Land has suffered, both economically and socially, particularly harsh effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The following is the English text of the letter.
 
Alexandria Egypt (Agenzia Fides) - Today, March 18, the 5th Fair for Small Youth Enterprises, promoted by the local Coptic Orthodox Church, is being held in Alexandria. The annual initiative launched five years ago as an opportunity to support businesses created by young people, sees this year the participation of 70 exhibitors, young Christian and Muslim women and men, who present objects fruit of their creativity - mostly handcrafted products, relating to the clothing, furniture and utensils sectors of daily use - to wholesalers and large-scale producers, potentially interested in purchasing patents.

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Pope Francis yet again makes a heartfelt appeal for an end to violence in Myanmar as security forces continue their brutal crackdown on anti-coup demonstrators. -- Vatican News “Once again and with great sadness I feel the urgency to evoke the dramatic situation in Myanmar, where so many people, especially the young, are losing their lives to offer hope to their country,” Pope Francis said at the end of his weekly general audience. “I too kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say: stop the violence! I too extend my arms and say: let dialogue prevail!” the Holy Father said. 
 
By Vatican News staff reporter
 
In Najaf on Saturday, 6 March, the Holy Father visited for some 45 minutes with Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni Al-Sistani. Francis took the opportunity to stress the importance of cooperation and friendship between religious communities, and to thank Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani for speaking up — together with the Shiite community — in defence of those most vulnerable and persecuted amid the violence and great
 
ROME: In the run up to the pope’s visit to Iraq on March 5-8, a Vatican foundation has announced a new program worth €1.5 million ($1.8 million) to support young Christians living in the country.  Aid to the Church in Need (ACS) will fund scholarships for 150 students of the Catholic University of Erbil for the next four years. It is the only Catholic university in Iraq, and 54 percent of its 170 students are women.

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The Pope's visit to Serbia depends on a number of factors, said Serbian Patriarch Porfirije tonight, who, as he stated, will never think about especially important and epochal events for the Church alone….[T]he patriarch pointed out that, to the extent he knows, there so far have been no Vatican initiatives towards the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding the Pope's visit, and vice versa.  "Patriarch Irinej said that it would be good and useful for the relationship between the two churches, but whether and when it will be - God knows," said the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.  As for Pope Francis and the decision to form a commission to shed light on the life of Alojzije Stepinac, the patriarch says that it was a great gesture and believes that talks on that topic will continue.  His impression is that, as he says, after several meetings of that commission, the views of all parties somehow came closer, although everyone remained in their initial positions.  That is why he believes that, if the conversation continues, it will be easier to find a way forward, which will benefit both Serbs and Croats.
 
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Patriarch Porfirije, the head of Serbia’s influential Orthodox Church, went into isolation on Wednesday after coming into contact with a priest infected with COVID-19, his office said on Wednesday.
 
In a simple gathering, the Patriarchal Court sent their wishes to the Ecumenical Patriarch for his birthday, while the hierarchs, who are in Constantinople, sent a congratulations message and flowers due to the traffic ban on the weekend.

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Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Sunday saluted “the 15,000 people who rallied Saturday at the patriarchal seat in support of the patriarchate’s stance that has called on the international community to declare Lebanon’s positive and active neutrality.”  --   Al-Rahi also saluted “the hundreds of thousands who took part in this supportive rally through TV stations, radios, Facebook and social media, in Lebanon, the Arab countries and the diaspora countries.”

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MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - A jihadist message, “Islamic State endures”, is still graffitied on the front gate of Thanoun Yahya, an Iraqi Christian from the northern city of Mosul, scrawled by Islamist militants who occupied his home for three years when they ruled the city.

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The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin on Thursday issued a statement expressing concerns over the ongoing developments in the country and urging people to show prudence and refrain from civil clashes.  --   “In this post-war crisis, when the homeland is facing numerous political, economic and social challenges, accusations and constant calls for political revenge endanger the national unity and security,” the Armenian Church said.

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In pictures: Entrance of Patriarch Pizzaballa into Holy Sepulchre for 1st week of Lent Available in the following languages: Arabic,  Français
 
Rome — Traveling during an ongoing global pandemic. Heading to a country where suicide bombings are a threat. Preparing for the first meeting between a pope and one of the world's leading Muslim clerics.  --  Even for a pontiff who has undertaken some difficult trips abroad, Pope Francis' planned visit to Iraq, March 5 to 8,  has more than a usual share of complexity.  -- Add to the list: encouraging a small but historic Christian community that is still reeling from three years of devastation wrought by Islamic State militants who destroyed churches and forced hundreds of thousands to flee a brutal fundamentalist regime.

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Services in Orthodox churches have been suspended in Abkhazia until the Russian Orthodox Church resolves the issue of the status of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church in a bid to receive autocephaly. -  The Abkhaz Orthodox Church’s independent existence ended in 1795, and since then it has been officially part of the Georgian Orthodox Church. After the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict in the early 1990s, contacts between them ceased.

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AL-TAHIRA CHURCH IN QARAQOSH (BAGHDEDA) was almost completely destroyed by ISIS, when it occupied part of northern Iraq (2014-2017). Thanks to the generous support of donors of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the church has been rebuilt over the course of the last few years and is now almost fully restored. Pope Francis has confirmed that he will visit the Marian basilica on Sunday March 7, as part of this visit to Iraq. during his visit to the country. ACN spoke with Father Ammar Yako, who has been overseeing the reconstruction.

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The head of the Catholic Church's Caritas charity in Bosnia–Herzegovina has urged help for refugees stranded in drastic winter conditions in the Balkan country, and accused the European Union of ignoring their plight and seeking to “wash its hands like Pilate”.  --  “Most people in Bosnia-Herzegovina are hospitable to    ... read more
 
BAGHDAD — In the busy emergency room of Baghdad’s main public hospital, Ali Abbas stood face uncovered, waiting for his sickly father. Dozens of other patients and their relatives mingled without masks.  --   It’s a scene that confounds health workers in Iraq, who warn that the country is entering a new wave of coronavirus cases, in part because many shirk precautions.

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Metropolitan Porfirije of Zagreb-Ljubljana was elected today as the new Serbian Patriarch in the Cathedral of Saint Sava in Belgrade on 18 February 2021.
 
Bishops of Serbia’s powerful Orthodox Church on Thursday elected Porfirije Peric as their 46th patriarch.
 

Vatican delegation visits Imam Ali holy shrine

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): A delegation from the Vatican visited the holy shrine of Imam Ali (AS) in Najaf, Iraq, on Thursday.

The delegation, led by Mitja Leskovar and representing Pope Francis, has traveled to Najaf to meet with senior clerics and sources of emulation to discuss preparations for an upcoming visit to Iraq by the head of the Catholic Church. 

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Russian Catholics have thanked their Bishops’ Conference's Jesuit secretary-general for demanding greater justice and tolerance in their country, after a leading layman urged the Church to take a tougher stance against current repression.

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Le pape François a averti lundi du risque que "le Liban perde son identité et se trouve encore plus impliqué dans les tensions régionales" et plaidé pour un "engagement politique national et international renouvelé pour favoriser la stabilité" du pays, qui fait actuellement face à un faisceau de crises socio-économique, financière, politique et sanitaire. Le souverain pontife avait fait savoir fin décembre 2020 qu'il comptait se rendre au Liban "dès que possible".   read more - leggi tuto