Monday 5 December 2016

Portrait of the Week

Pope Francis heaped praise on Catholic nuns, calling them 'women of strength,' in a move to salve wounds opened by his predecessor Pope Benedict

Published 27/09/2015 | 02:30

Olive branch: Nuns and other guests take photographs of Pope Francis as he leaves St Patrick's Cathedral in New York in a week in which the pontiff praised nuns, calling them 'women of strength' Photo: Robert Sabo-Pool/Getty Images
Olive branch: Nuns and other guests take photographs of Pope Francis as he leaves St Patrick's Cathedral in New York in a week in which the pontiff praised nuns, calling them 'women of strength' Photo: Robert Sabo-Pool/Getty Images

Russian border guards broke out laughing when Syrian refugee Wassem Khatib wobbled on a child's bicycle towards a remote Arctic frontier post - struggling with a guitar, a rucksack and a heavy suitcase - to seek asylum in neighbouring Norway.

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In a rare light-hearted moment in Europe's worst migration crisis since World War Two, Khatib said he had bought the old, rickety bicycle to comply with a Russian law barring travel on foot in the border zone.

"The bicycle didn't work very well. The border guards were laughing," said Khatib (25), who arrived in Norway last week with his friend, Nabeeh Samaan (31). They said they had travelled from Beirut via Russia to avoid military service in Syria.

After taking a taxi close to the border, Khatib said he had slung his guitar and rucksack on his back and pedalled the last 100 meters to the frontier, pulling his big black suitcase on small wheels. He almost fell off.

"My bicycle was bigger and easier to ride," Samaan said, at a refugee centre in Oslo.

Police say that at least 400 Syrians have reached Norway this year via a long, roundabout route across the Arctic frontier, formerly a Cold War outpost between NATO and the Soviet Union.

"Numbers are rising steadily," Hans Moellebakken, police chief in the Norwegian town of Kirkenes near the border, said on Friday. In all of 2014, only a dozen refugees crossed the border.

Around a third of asylum seekers arriving in Germany who claim to be from Syria are probably not actually from that country, a spokesman for the German interior ministry said on Friday.

"Thirty per cent of those asylum seekers who claim to be Syrian are not Syrians, according to this estimate," Tobias Plate said, adding that there were no precise statistics.

A Swedish pop-music tycoon turned TV celebrity, who once founded an anti-immigration political party, might well be the most unlikely beneficiary of Europe's migration crisis.

But as long as the country is taking in the most asylum seekers per capita of any in Europe, Bert Karlsson is happy to earn a fortune from the government for housing them.

Sweden's answer to Simon Cowell, Karlsson founded a record label and later appeared as a ubiquitous judge on reality-TV talent shows.

He launched an anti-immigration political party that briefly held the balance of power in parliament, before flaming out in the mid-1990s, and still says Sweden needs to spend less on migrants.

But that hasn't stopped his company, Jokarjo, from housing around 5,000 migrants at 30 sites and becoming the leading supplier of temporary housing for asylum seekers to Sweden's government, a business he expects to double this year after tripling in 2014.

The venture is a reminder that the European migration crisis is also big business, from the Turkish market traders selling life vests on the beach in Bodrum, to the Balkan coach operators selling bus tickets from border to border.

Pope Francis heaped praise on Catholic nuns on Thursday in his first New York appearance, calling them "women of strength," in a move to salve wounds opened by his predecessor, who had launched a probe into what he had regarded as radical feminists.

A six-year clash between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious ended in April, after the group, which represents about 80pc of US nuns, agreed to demands that they keep within Roman Catholic doctrine.

"I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States," Francis said in an evening prayer service at New York's St Patrick's Cathedral, one of the highest-profile churches in the United States.

"What would the church be without you?" said Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict in 2013. "Women of strength, fighters... I wish to say, 'thank you,' a big 'thank you.'"

Benedict had launched a probe into some 341 religious orders representing 50,000 nuns in 2008, after criticising nuns as taking a soft line on issues such as the use of birth control and homosexual activity, both of which the church opposes.

The probe attracted public attention in the US, with many Catholics complaining that the male-dominated Vatican was unfairly picking on nuns who have played a huge role in church education and hospitals over the past few decades.

A Saudi prince has been arrested on charges of trying to force a worker at a Beverly Hills estate to perform oral sex, Los Angeles police have said. Majed Abdulaziz Al-Saud (28) was arrested on Wednesday and was released on $300,000 bond the next day, according to police and online jail records.

The Los Angeles Times said police descended on the massive estate after a neighbour saw a bleeding woman screaming for help as she tried to scale the property's surrounding wall on Wednesday.

The $37m home, in one of the most exclusive enclaves in the world, has been rented for weeks at a time by foreign nationals over the past year, the neighbour told the newspaper. The prince is expected to be in court on October 19, court records show.

Sunday Independent

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