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IRELAND

Vatican confirms Pope’s Ireland visit

Pope Francis plans to visit Ireland in August next year, the Vatican confirmed on Thursday, four months after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny announced what will be a landmark trip.

Vatican confirms Pope's Ireland visit
Pope Francis will visit Ireland in August next year. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Francis, 80, “will do everything he can”, to attend the World Meeting of Families, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, a senior Vatican official, told journalists, as he announced plans and final dates (August 21-26, 2018) for the ninth edition of the gathering of Catholic families.

Francis will be the first pope to visit Ireland since John Paul II in 1979. The country has undergone momentous social and economic change since then and the Church's influence in what was once one of the most fervently Catholic countries in the world is now greatly reduced.

Kenny ruffled feathers by announcing the pope's plans to visit after an audience at the Vatican in November, at which point the Holy See had not even confirmed any of the pontiff's 2017 travel plans.

The Taoiseach, as the Irish premier is titled, has praised Francis for improving the Church's efforts to combat sex abuse by clerics – an issue on which he had accused the Vatican of “dysfunction, disconnection and elitism” in 2011.

At their meeting in November, Kenny and Francis discussed the possibility of the pope's visit including a leg in Northern Ireland.

No decisions have been made on that front amid fears of the region's peace deal unravelling due to Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

The decline of the Church's influence in Ireland was underlined in 2015 when 62 percent of voters approved the legalisation of gay marriage.

And the Catholic hierarchy is battling to defend the country's constitutional ban on abortion, which political pundits expect to be put to a new referendum next year, possibly soon after Francis visits.

Cardinal Farrell told reporters the theme of the 2018 World Families Meetings would be the Church's conception of married life between a man and a woman. The last gathering of its kind, in Philadelphia in 2015, was also addressed by Francis, who has made family life one of the central themes of
his papacy.

HEALTH

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy’s Easter Sunday message

Pope Francis proclaimed vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic in his Easter Sunday address and urged their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries.

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy's Easter Sunday message
Pope Francis delivers his Urbi et Orbi Blessing, after celebrating Easter Mass on April 04, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the Pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable – the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines, “especially in the poorest countries”.

READ ALSO: Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.

The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased. He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, after the Pope’s Easter Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth – “committed to supporting democracy” – called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4th marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.

An Easter message in Lockdown before a key month in Italy

The Pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.

The whole of Italy, the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus, has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What can you do this Easter in lockdown Italy?

Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March – although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.

April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Three regions, including that of Veneto, which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zone to “orange”.

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