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Pope Francis: ‘I Weighed Iraq Virus Risk But Believe God Will Protect’



Pope Francis said Monday he weighed the risks of a high-profile trip to Iraq during the coronavirus pandemic, but said he decided to go ahead with it after much prayer and belief that God would look out for the Iraqis who might get exposed.

Francis described his decision-making process en route home from Iraq amid concerns that his four-day visit, which featured oftentimes maskless crowds in packed churches, singing — could result in the spread of infections in a country with a fragile health care system and a sustained surge in new cases.

Francis said the idea of a trip “cooks over time in my conscience,” and that the pandemic was the issue that weighed most heavily on him. Francis has experienced close-up the ravages of COVID-19 in Europe given Italy has had one of the worst outbreaks in the world, with the official death toll soon to hit 100,000.


“I prayed a lot about this. And in the end I took the decision freely,” Francis said. “It came from inside. I said ‘He who makes me decide this way will look after the people.

READ ALSO: Iraq’s Struggling Christians Hope Receives Boost As Pope Francis Visits

“I took the decision this way, but after prayer and knowing the risks,” he said.

Francis on Monday wrapped up the first-ever papal trip to Iraq, which was aimed at bringing hope to the country’s marginalized Christian minority while boosting relations with the Shiite Muslim world.


At every turn of his trip, Francis urged Iraqis to embrace diversity — from Najaf in the south, where he held a historic face-to-face meeting with powerful Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to Nineveh to the north, where he met with Christian victims of the Islamic State group and heard their testimonies of survival.

But at every turn he also experienced crowds that often ignored social distancing norms and mask requirements, even though the Vatican and Iraqi church officials had promised anti-virus measures would be enforced.

Francis, the Vatican delegation and traveling media were vaccinated against COVID-19, while most Iraqis haven’t been.

READ ALSO: Migration Not A Threat To Christianity – Pope Francis


Infectious disease experts had questioned the wisdom of such a trip given Iraq’s latest cases are being spurred by the more infectious strain that first appeared in the U.K.

Iraq recorded 4,068 infections Saturday, up significantly from infection rates at the start of the year. In total. 13,500 people have died among a total 720,000 confirmed infections.

While Francis said he prayed on the decision, it was clear the globe-trotting pope of the peripheries was also getting antsy being cooped up in the Vatican for more than a year.

He said he hoped he soon might be able to resume public audiences at the Vatican, which have been suspended for months, and hinted at a possible trip to Lebanon.


“After these months of imprisonment, and truly I felt a bit imprisoned, this for me is to live again,” he said of the chance to be close to his flock. “To live again because it’s touching the church, the holy people of God.”

In one of the historic highlights of the trip, Francis was invited into the home of the notoriously reclusive al-Sistani, among the most influential and revered Shiite clerics, and together they delivered a powerful message of peaceful coexistence and affirmed the rights of Iraqi Christians.

The Vatican hopes the message can help preserve the place of the thinning Christian population in Iraq’s tapestry of faith and ethnic groups.

READ ALSO: Amid Pandemic, Pope Goes To Iraq To Rally Fading Christian


Francis said he was “honored” to have been received by al-Sistani, whom he called “a great man, a wise man, a man of God.”

“He was very respectful,” Francis said, publicly acknowledging the rare honor the 90-year-old al-Sistani showed him by standing up to greet him.

“He never stands up for the greeting. He stood up to greet me — twice,” Francis said. “This meeting was good for my soul. He is a luminary.”

Francis counted the meeting as the second major step forward in the Vatican’s interfaith efforts with Muslims after he penned a landmark document on shared Christian-Muslim values with a top Sunni cleric in 2019.


Francis also shot back at critics who questioned his outreach to Muslims as watering down of Catholic doctrine or downright heresy, saying “sometimes you have to take risks to take steps forward.”

“These are risks that you take in prayer and in dialogue, in seeking advice and in reflection,” he said. “They are not (based on) whims.”

The trip, however, was taxing on the 84-year-old pope, whose sciatica nerve pain was apparently flaring and making him walk with a pronounced limp.

Francis said he wasn’t sure if he would have to slow down his usual whirlwind pace on future trips.


“I do confess that on this trip I got a lot more tired than during other ones,” he said, noting his age. “It’s a consequence. But we’ll see.”

The next likely trip is to Budapest, Hungary, to close out an international Eucharistic conference in September, with a possible side trip to Bratislava, Slovakia, he said.

The Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest Peter Erdo later confirmed the visit to Budapest to Hungarian news agency MTI, while the Slovak Bishops’ Conference said the pope’s possible trip to Slovakia hasn’t been confirmed yet.

Otherwise, the only other trip Francis has promised to make is to Lebanon, though he offered no time frame.


“Lebanon is suffering,” Francis said, referring to its political, economic, social and coronavirus crises.

He said the country’s patriarch had asked him to add a Beirut leg onto his Iraq trip but that he had declined, thinking it would be like tossing the country “crumbs,” given all Lebanon’s current problems.

“But I wrote him a letter and promised I’d go to Lebanon.”



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Man, 38 Escapes Assassination Attempt In Benin



Innocent Omoruyi

By Omokha Andrew

A 38-year-old activist, Innocent Omoruyi, narrowly escaped assassination in the early hours of Wednesday, July 19, 2023 as his residence at Obe Community,Sapele Road in Benin city was attacked by yet to be identified gun men.

The attack which eye witnesses say was viciously executed on Wednesday, July 19, 2023 bore the markings of a dreaded cult group terrorizing Benin City, the state capital.


The Obe, Sapale Road incident, it was learnt, happened soon after Omoruyi left the house to attend to matters of interest some few metres away from his home.

The assailants were said to have shot sporadically in their frustration as residents scampered for safety.

However, Omoruyi escaped unharmed.

One of the eye witnesses who craved anonymity said: “The felons apparently went for the kill, weilding guns and other dangerous weapons. “We are shocked that they didn’t see Innocent Omoruyi who was just some few metres away from home when they arrived”.


“How that happened, only God knows and it was obvious that it wasn’t his time to die yet and just before that not long ago his business place on Lagos Street, Benin City was burnt down in the middle of the night by unknown arsonists.

“This sequence of events is not ordinary. We know it’s politically motivated due to the role he played in the last general elections. He has been advised to go into hiding at the moment for his personal safety”, he concluded.

When contacted, the police Public Relations Officer Chidi Nwabuzor said he was yet to get any information as regards the latest incident. He promised to feed our correspondent with relevant details as soon as they become handy.

Our information source however revealed that the matter has already been incidented at the Love World Police station on Sapele Road, Benin city.


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Nigeria To Earn Over $4bn Revenue As FEC Okays Concession Of Abuja, Kano Airports



Nigeria will earn over $4 billion in nominal revenue as the Federal Executive Council, FEC, on Wednesday okayed the concession of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, and Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano, to the Corporacion American Airport Consortium, a Luxembourg-based company.

James Odaudu, the Special Assistant on Public Affairs to the Minister of Aviation, disclosed this in a statement on Thursday.

According to him, the Council also approved that the Federal Ministry of Aviation would be renamed the Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace.


READ ALSO: ATMs To Be Upgraded For Loans Services As CBN Gives Banks Ultimatum…

The statement noted that the company would make combined upfront payments of $8.5 million for the concession of NAIA and MAKIA.

He added that the development would spur evidential growth within the Nigerian aviation industry.

In alignment with the Aviation Roadmap, approved by Mr President on 18th October 2016, the Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace is delighted to inform all stakeholders, both local and international, and the media, that the concession of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, and Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano has been approved by the Federal Executive Council,” the statement said.


READ ALSO: Peter Obi, LP Must Pay N1.5million To Access Documents – INEC

In December 2022 and January 2023, Corporacion American Airport Consortium was announced as the preferred bidder for the airport’s concession after scaling through a series of evaluations of technical and financial bids.

Nominal revenues mean income not adjusted for inflation and decreasing purchasing power.

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Russia Expelled From Council Of Europe Amid War With Ukraine



The Council of Europe says it has expelled Russia with immediate effect after 26 years of membership because of the Ukraine war.

The Committee of Ministers took the decision in a special session, the rights body announced in the French city of Strasbourg on Wednesday.

Earlier, Russia had already declared its withdrawal from the Council of Europe after it had taken steps to exclude it.


On Tuesday evening, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted unanimously in favour of Russia’s exclusion.

Russia joined the Council of Europe on Feb. 28, 1996.

Together with the formal notification of the withdrawal, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe also received information from the Russian Federation on Tuesday about its intention to denounce the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, the leaders of the Council of Europe once again condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


READ ALSO: Ukraine: Horror As Russian Forces Shoot People Queuing For Bread

They expressed their solidarity with the Russian people, who continue to belong to the European family and share its values.

The body said it would continue to stand by Ukraine in the fight against the aggressor.

The Council of Europe monitors the observance of human rights in its 46 member states and is not part of the European Union.


The body reacted to the Russian invasion of Ukraine two weeks ago by suspending Russia’s membership, this decision was considered historic.

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