News & Current Affairs

September 14, 2008

Pope holds huge Mass in Lourdes

Pope holds huge Mass in Lourdes

Pope Benedict XVI has told tens of thousands of pilgrims in the southern French town of Lourdes that love can be stronger than all the world’s evil.

The 81-year-old pontiff gave the homily during an open-air Sunday Mass at the highly-revered Roman Catholic shrine.

Benedict is in Lourdes to mark the 150th anniversary of what many Roman Catholics believe was a vision of the Virgin Mary by a young local girl.

On Saturday, he also celebrated an outdoor Mass in the capital, Paris.

More than 200,000 pilgrims made the trip to Lourdes for Benedict’s first papal Mass at the shrine.

The pontiff is making a three-day pilgrimage to the sanctuary, which is visited each year by six million believers.

There is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weakness and sins
Pope Benedict XVI

Benedict looked elated and moved by the rapturous welcome he received from the crowds – some of the faithful had queued through the night to make ensure their place.

Security has been tight, with more than 3,000 police officers drafted in to the area.

After his arrival at the shrine, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Benedict prayed at the Grotto of Massabielle, also known as the Cave of Apparitions.

The riverside site is where 14-year-old peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous told local clergy in 1858 the Virgin Mary had appeared to her.

When he arrived on Saturday night, Benedict also drank water from a spring that believers say has miraculous healing powers.

Pope Benedict XVI has celebrated his first Mass at Lourdes

Saying Mass from under white canopies shaped like sails, the Pope told his listeners to be true to their faith because “it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weakness and sins”.

He said: “The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us.”

Pope Benedict arrived in Paris on Friday for his first visit to France since becoming Pope in 2005. He was welcomed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he praised for promoting the role of religion in society.

France staunchly upholds a 1905 law that enshrines the separation of Church and state, but Mr Sarkozy has supported efforts to ease the country’s strict secularism law.

France is a Roman Catholic country but Sunday Mass attendance is now below 10%.

Before his visit, a French newspaper poll showed that more than half of those questioned had a positive view of the Pope.


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August 14, 2008

Iraq suicide blast kills pilgrims

Iraq suicide blast kills pilgrims

Iraq map

Eighteen people have died and another 75 were injured after a female suicide bomber struck in southern Iraq.

The female attacker blew herself up while among a group of Shia pilgrims in the town of Iskandariya.

One witness said women were cooking dinner and children were playing when the explosion occurred.

Thousands of pilgrims are heading to the holy city of Karbala for a major religious festival this weekend marking the birthday of the 12th Shia imam.

Ahmed al-Saadi, a 34-year-old carpenter from Baghdad’s Sadr City district, told the Associated Press news agency: “Minutes after I passed the resting spot, I heard a big explosion. I turned my head back and saw big flames.

“We rushed to the site and saw charred bodies while wounded people were crying for help. Pots and burnt prayer rugs were scattered all the place.”

Iskandariya had seen a recent decline in violence due to an influx of US troops and a Sunni backlash against al-Qaeda.

Tens of thousands of Shia pilgrims are expected to flock to Karbala this weekend.

August 12, 2008

Protesters shot dead in Kashmir

Protesters shot dead in Kashmir

Protesters defying curfew in Srinagar on August 12 2008

Protests over land erupted in June

At least seven people were killed and many injured when security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir opened fire onĀ  stone-throwing Muslim protesters.

Thousands defied a curfew in Srinagar and other towns in the mainly Muslim Kashmir valley for a second day. One person died in clashes in Jammu region.

The curfew was imposed ahead of the burial of a senior separatist who died after police opened fire on Monday.

Tensions are rising and threaten peace hopes after years of relative calm.

The BBC’s Chris Morris in Delhi says Kashmir has now become dangerously polarized, in a dispute which began over the control of a small piece of land.

Protests and counter-protests have been taking place for weeks in the Kashmir valley, and in the mainly Hindu region around the city of Jammu further south.

The demonstrations in the valley are some the biggest since a separatist rebellion against Indian rule broke out nearly 20 years ago.

‘Freedom’

Security forces opened fire on Tuesday on a number of protests by Muslims who defied the curfew.

If the blockade continues it will be a disaster for us
Mohammad Yousuf,
Kashmir Fruit Growers’ Association

The army fired to disperse a procession in the northern district of Bandipora, killing three people and injuring five. Three other people were killed in the Lasjan and Rainawari areas.

“We have imposed a curfew to ensure the peaceful burial of Sheikh Aziz,” local police chief Kuldeep Khuda told reporters.

In the Jammu region, one person was killed and more than a dozen injured after Hindus and Muslims clashed in the town of Kishtwar. Houses, vehicles and other property were damaged before police opened fire to restore order.

No other violence has been reported from the Jammu region.

Sheikh Aziz was a prominent leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella of separatist groups which opposes Indian rule.

His body has been kept in a mosque in Srinagar. Mourners have stayed with the body and shouted slogans like “We want freedom”.

The police said they were trying to find out why security forces opened fire on the protesters on Monday.

Police say several of their personnel were injured by stones thrown by those at the protest.

Pilgrims

Sheikh Aziz was among thousands of protesters who marched on Monday towards the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border with Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

Kashmiri Muslim protester runs for cover as tear gas shell explode near them during a march in Srinagar 11 August

The violence is spreading

They were supporting fruit growers who wanted to sell their produce. Muslims say Hindus in the state are blockading a key highway that links the Kashmir valley with the rest of India.

The government, which denies the blockade, says lorries are moving between the two regions with security escorts.

Hindus have protested for weeks since the authorities scrapped plans to transfer land to a Hindu trust.

With the highway blocked for days, the Muslim fruit growers have complained that their produce is rotting.

The land row started when the state government said it would grant 99 acres (40 hectares) of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board to be used by Hindu pilgrims.

Muslims launched violent protests, saying the allocation of land was aimed at altering the demographic balance in the area.

But following days of protests, the government rescinded the order, prompting Hindu groups to mount violent protests of their own.

More than 20 people – Muslims and Hindus – have been killed and hundreds wounded in clashes with police since the unrest began.

August 9, 2008

Texas bus crash kills 15 pilgrims

Texas bus crash kills 15 pilgrims

Bus wreckage in Sherman, TX

The crash sent the bus off a bridge

Fifteen people have been killed in the US state of Texas after a bus carrying a Vietnamese church group crashed off a bridge into a ravine.

The bus, carrying 55 people, slid off a bridge in Sherman, about 60 miles (100 km) north of Dallas, at 0045 local time (0545 GMT) on Friday.

Police said the bus was chartered by Vietnamese Catholics from Houston who were on a pilgrimage to Missouri.

The operators of the bus did not have a valid licence, officials say.

Initial reports said the bus lost control and smashed into the rail guard of the bridge. It apparently then skidded along the rail before sliding off the bridge.

At the site of the crash, the crumpled wreckage of the bus lay on its right side, littered with luggage, shopping bags and scattered clothing.

Expired certificate

Twelve people died at the screen of the crash and another three later in local hospitals.

Bus crash survivor Leha Nguyen

Leha Nguyen: “I’m the luckiest one”

A large section of the highway was closed as ambulances and at least 13 helicopters rushed to the scene to ferry the wounded to several hospitals in the Dallas area.

One passenger, Leha Nguyen, 45, said people were dozing off when passengers started screaming.

“Somebody was laying on my legs. A lady next to me, she had her arm crushed up,” she said.

“I think I’m the luckiest one out of most people,” she added, stating that none of the passengers were wearing seat belts.

Accident investigators say that a tyre on the bus blew out, and that it had been refitted with a new tread, in violation of safety regulations.

The National Transportation Safety Board said that the 52-year-old driver, who survived the crash, had a commercial licence, but had an expired medical certificate.

According to Houston’s KHOU-TV, the passengers were from the Vietnamese Martyrs Church of Houston who were on their way to Carthage, Missouri, for the Marian Days festival, an annual celebration to honour the Virgin Mary.

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