Sunday 21 January 2018

Portrait of the Week: Pope prays for persecuted and Hong Kong cleans up

The Pope, and a million others, visit the Shroud of Turin, Billy Graham's grandson admits "moral failure", and two British teens steal from Auschwitz

Moved on: A protester sits near belongings at the last remaining pro-democracy site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong last week. Photo: Getty Images
Moved on: A protester sits near belongings at the last remaining pro-democracy site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong last week. Photo: Getty Images Newsdesk Newsdesk

Pope Francis prayed on Sunday before the mysterious shroud some Christians believe is Jesus's burial cloth, but skirted the issue of its authenticity, saying it should remind people of all suffering and persecution.

On his first day of a visit to the industrial city of Turin in north Italy, he defended migrants flocking to Europe to escape war and injustice, saying it "makes one cry" to see them mistreated.

He also spoke of the city's 19th-Century reputation as a centre of devil worship and anti-clericalism, saying today's young people faced new snares of high unemployment, drugs and unbridled consumerism.

Francis was the latest of many popes to view the shroud, which is usually kept locked out of sight and is on display for only the third time in 17 years. Over a million people have seen it in two months.

After praying for several minutes before the cloth that has baffled scientists for decades, he touched its glass case and moved on to say Mass for 60,000 people. He said the Shroud should spur people to reflect not only on Jesus but also on "the face of every suffering and unjustly persecuted person".

The Roman Catholic Church has not taken an official position on the cloth bearing an image, reversed like a photographic negative, of a man with the wounds of a crucifixion.

It shows the back and front of a bearded man, his arms crossed on his chest. It is marked by what appear to be rivulets of blood from wounds in the wrists, feet and side.

Sceptics say it is a masterful medieval forgery and carbon-dating tests in 1988 dated it between 1260 and 1390, but some have challenged the accuracy of those tests.

Sister Nirmala Joshi, who succeeded Nobel laureate Mother Teresa as the head of her Missionaries of Charity and expanded the movement overseas, died on Tuesday, aged 80. After taking over the charity following Mother Teresa's death in 1997, Nirmala expanded the organisation's reach to 134 countries by opening centres in nations such as Afghanistan, Israel and Thailand. She stepped down in 2009 due to poor health. "She had big shoes to fill, expectations were huge, but with simplicity, unstinting love and faith she proved herself," said Sunil Lucas, a communications director for the Archdiocese of Calcutta. The city is now known as Kolkata.

A grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham resigned his post atop a prominent south Florida church after admitting to "moral failure," according to a statement from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. A statement on the church's website said that several days ago Tullian Tchividjian, 42, had acknowledged that "his actions disqualify him from continuing to serve as senior pastor or preach from the pulpit, and resigned - effective immediately".

The website did not specify what Tchividjian's "moral failure" was and church officials did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement to the Washington Post, Tchividjian said his problems began after returning from a trip and learning his wife was having an affair. The couple later separated, according to the statement. "Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself," he said.

In another letter to the newspaper, Tchividjian's wife Kim was less apologetic, while asking for privacy and thanking supporters. "The statement reflected my husband's opinions but not my own," she said.

Hong Kong authorities began clearing away the last pro-democracy encampments near government headquarters on Wednesday, watched by a handful of demonstrators in a quiet but poignant end to nine months of street protests.

The so-called Occupy Central movement kicked off on September 28, when tens of thousands of protesters streamed onto major highways in a push for full democracy, demonstrations that became the biggest political challenge to Beijing's Communist Party leaders for decades. The protesters dug in over the ensuing weeks, with hundreds of tents, and marquees filled with free provisions and medical supplies mushrooming in the financial hub, as well as protest art and outdoor classrooms. Hong Kong police cleared away most of the sites in mid-December but a small cluster of tents and hard-core protesters were allowed to remain on pavements until Wednesday, marking 270 straight days of demonstrations at the same site.

Officials from the Lands Department, dressed in hard hats and green vests, read out a notice calling for a final clearance of the remaining site on a rainy morning. Two protesters were taken away by police, including one who was identified by demonstrators as Wang Dengyao, a Chinese activist who survived the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing. There was little resistance from around 20 others who watched quietly as the site was cleared away, their sodden tents and possessions thrown into dump trucks.

A Polish court on Tuesday found two British teenagers guilty of stealing historical artefacts during a school history trip to the former Auschwitz death camp, but allowed them to go free after handing down a suspended sentence.

The two boys, both aged 17, spent Monday night in a police cell after being caught with items including a fragment of a razor, a piece of spoon, buttons and two pieces of glass, believed to have once belonged to inmates at the Nazi German camp. A police spokesman had said earlier that they could face up to 10 years in prison. In 2010, a Swedish man was jailed for orchestrating the theft of the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) sign from the entry gate of the Auschwitz site.

Germany's domestic intelligence agency (BfV) fears a growing number of women have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside Islamic State militants, its chief said on Wednesday.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the agency, told reporters in Berlin there had been a sharp increase in the number of young women under 25 leaving Germany to join the insurgents. He said that about 100 of the 700 Germans in combat areas were women and about half of those women were under 25.

Similar trends, showing more Western women joining Islamic State than earlier radical Islamist movements, have been reported from other European countries, with large Muslim minorities such as France and Britain.

Sunday Independent

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