Pope Says He’ll Slow Down or Retire

Pope Francis acknowledged Saturday that he can no longer travel like he used to because of his strained knee ligaments, saying his weeklong Canadian pilgrimage was “a bit of a test” that showed he needs to slow down and one day possibly retire.

Speaking to reporters while traveling home from northern Nunavut, the 85-year-old Francis stressed that he hadn’t thought about resigning but said “the door is open” and there was nothing wrong with a pope stepping down.

“It’s not strange. It’s not a catastrophe. You can change the pope,” he said while sitting in an airplane wheelchair during a 45-minute news conference.

Francis said that while he hadn’t considered resigning until now, he realizes he has to at least slow down.

“I think at my age and with these limitations, I have to save (my energy) to be able to serve the church, or on the contrary, think about the possibility of stepping aside,” he said.

Francis was peppered with questions about the future of his pontificate following the first trip in which he used a wheelchair, walker and cane to get around, sharply limiting his program and ability to mingle with crowds.

He strained his right knee ligaments earlier this year, and continuing laser and magnetic therapy forced him to cancel a trip to Africa that was scheduled for the first week of July.

The Canada trip was difficult, and featured several moments when Francis was clearly in pain as he maneuvered getting up and down from chairs.

At the end of his six-day tour, he appeared in good spirits and energetic, despite a long day traveling to the edge of the Arctic on Friday to again apologize to Indigenous peoples for the injustices they suffered in Canada’s church-run residential schools.

Francis ruled out having surgery on his knee, saying it would not necessarily help and noting “there are still traces” from the effects of having undergone more than six hours of anesthesia in July 2021 to remove 33 centimeters of his large intestine.

“I’ll try to continue to do the trips and be close to people because I think it’s a way of servicing, being close. But more than this, I can’t say,” he said Saturday.

In other comments aboard the papal plane, Francis:

• Agreed that the attempt to eliminate Indigenous culture in Canada through a church-run residential school system amounted to a cultural “genocide.” Francis said he didn’t use the term during his Canada trip because it didn’t come to mind. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined in 2015 that the forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes and placement in church-run residential schools to assimilate them into Christian, Canadian constituted a “cultural genocide.” “It’s true I didn’t use the word because it didn’t come to mind, but I described genocide, no?” Francis said. “I apologized, I asked forgiveness for this work, which was genocide.”

• Suggested he was not opposed to a development of Catholic doctrine on the use of contraception. Church teaching prohibits artificial contraception. Francis noted that a Vatican think tank recently published the acts of a congress where a modification to the church’s absolute “no” was discussed. He stressed that doctrine can develop over time and that it was the job of theologians to pursue such developments, with the pope ultimately deciding. Francis noted that church teaching on atomic weapons was modified during his pontificate to consider not only the use but the mere possession of atomic weapons as immoral and to consider the death penalty immoral in all cases.

• Confirmed he hoped to travel to Kazakhstan in mid-September for an interfaith conference where he might meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who has justified the war in Ukraine. Francis also said he wants to go to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, though no trip has yet been confirmed. He said he hoped to reschedule the trip to South Sudan he canceled because of his knee problems. He said the Congo leg of that trip would probably have to be put off until next year because of the rainy season.

Source: Voice of America

Somali President Urging Public to Help Millions Hit by Drought

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has called on the Somali public to join the government’s effort to help millions of people in the country affected by the drought. The U.N. says 7.7 million Somalis have been affected by the drought.

Speaking at a mosque in the country’s capital, Mogadishu, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called on citizens to join his government’s efforts to help Somalis devastated by the worst drought in more than 40 years in the Horn of Africa nation.

Mohamud said those affected the most by the drought are the elderly and children, who are experiencing severe malnutrition.

He says the drought and its circumstances have worsened, and it now has reached a state of famine and death. The livestock are already gone, there was much hunger, he said, but the government has been doing whatever it can to help people, and the world is helping. He emphasized that the Somali people and those abroad need to double their efforts to reach a lot of people in time of great need.

Mohamud was elected in May by the country’s parliament for a second time, and he announced shortly after taking office that his government’s priority was to battle the current prolonged drought that has devastated 90 percent of the country.

He also appointed a special envoy for drought response to facilitate the humanitarian activities in the country.

According to the United Nations office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 7.7 million Somalis have been affected by the drought, and nearly a million people have been displaced. Drought-related malnutrition has killed more than 500 children since January of this year.

The U.N. Migration Agency (IOM) in Somalia told VOA on Saturday the people displaced from the drought are living under extreme conditions.

Claudia Rosel is the IOM media and communications officer, and she said the numbers of those displaced by drought have been steadily increasing since the beginning of this year.

“Those who are newly displaced due to drought are on top of 2.5 million people who were already internally displaced in Somalia due to natural hazards and conflicts over the years,” said Rosel. “And now what we are preoccupied with is that in just one year, we are seeing almost 1 million people nearly displaced due to drought conditions and most of them – they won’t be able to go back to their communities of origin because they have lost everything.”

The Somali prime minister’s office said the drought has affected more than 15 million livestock — 28 percent of Somalia’s total livestock population — while killing more than 2 million other animals.

Somalia’s southern Jubaland state minister of planning, Abdirahman Abdi Ahmed, told VOA Somali service that 200 children have died because of drought-related illnesses during the past three months.

Source: Voice of America

UN Agency Calls for More Protection for African Refugees and Migrants

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Friday called for more to be done to protect African refugees and migrants from traffickers on their way from the Sahel and the Horn of Africa toward North Africa and Europe.

UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo says traffickers take advantage of African refugees fleeing persecution and violence and of migrants fleeing poverty and climate shocks, subjecting them to appalling abuse.

“Some of them are left to die in the desert. Others suffer repeated sexual and gender-based violence, kidnapped for ransom, torture and many other forms of physical and psychological abuse,” said Mantoo. “So, the human trafficking issue is widespread and is incredibly alarming.”

The report issued by the UNHCR and the Mixed Migration Center at the Danish Refugee Council, is based on information from 12 countries, from Burkina Faso and Cameroon to Somalia and Sudan.

Mantoo tells VOA human traffickers and smugglers use technology and online platforms to advertise their services to unsuspecting victims. She says traffickers employ the internet to identify, groom and recruit victims, including children.

She says the UNHCR is urging governments and the private sector to work together to crack down on the use of the Internet by traffickers.

“These same digital technologies can be leveraged to actually counter the issue and counter trafficking by helping empower communities with trustworthy information, to better protect themselves and also be aware of the risks that they might face on these journeys …to ensure that there are protection services available for the people who are taking these precarious and perilous journeys, to prevent and end the human trafficking and smuggling rings,” said Mantoo.

The report provides tailored information for refugees and migrants on services available on different routes. The UNHCR is calling for the creation of shelters and safe places, better access to legal services, and specialized services for children and female survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence.

UNHCR officials stress the importance of identifying critical locations to serve as so-called last stops – places where refugees and migrants can get information about the dangers that lie ahead before they embark on journeys across the Sahara.

Source: Voice of America

Zambia Debt Relief Pledge Clears Way for $1.4 Billion, IMF Says

Zambia’s creditors pledged to negotiate a restructuring of the country’s debts on Saturday, a move International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva welcomed as “clearing the way” for a $1.4 billion IMF program.

The creditor committee, co-chaired by China and France, said in a statement released by G-20 chair Indonesia that it supported Zambia’s “envisaged IMF upper credit tranche program and its swift adoption by the IMF Executive Board.”

In 2020, Zambia became the first African country in the pandemic era to default. The restructuring of its external debt, which amounted to more than $17 billion at the end of 2021, is seen by many analysts as a test case.

“Very pleased the Official Creditor Committee for Zambia has provided its financial assurances clearing the way for a Fund program,” IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva said in a tweet.

“The delivery of these financing assurances will enable the IMF Executive Board to consider approval of a Fund-supported program for Zambia and unlock much needed financing from Zambia’s development partners,” Georgieva said in a statement released by the IMF after her tweet.

Zambia reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF on a $1.4 billion, three-year extended credit facility in December, conditional upon its ability to reduce debt to levels the IMF deems sustainable.

Zambia’s government welcomed the creditors’ pledge and its unlocking of IMF support.

“Zambia remains committed to implementing the much needed economic reforms, being transparent about our debt and ensuring fair and equitable treatment of our creditors,” Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane said.

On Friday, the finance ministry said it was canceling $2 billion in undisbursed loans.

Zambia’s creditor committee said that the restructuring terms would be finalized in a memorandum of understanding, without providing further details.

It also called on private creditors to “commit without delay” to negotiating debt relief on terms at least as favorable.

Kevin Daly, who chairs a committee of holders of Zambia’s Eurobonds, welcomed the bilateral creditors’ statement, but repeated a call to be given access to the IMF’s Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA), which forms the basis of negotiations.

“That’s where you could have delays with the restructuring, if all of a sudden we get the DSA and … (it) is just way too conservative, in terms of the forecasts,” Daly, of emerging markets investor abrdn, formerly Standard Life Aberdeen, told Reuters by telephone.

The first bilateral creditor meeting was held in June, after Zambia’s government complained of delays to the restructuring. Talks are taking place under the Common Framework, a debt relief process launched by the Group of 20 major economies in 2020 that has been criticized by some for being slow to yield results.

“This shows the potential of the #G20CommonFramework for debt treatment to deliver for countries committed to dealing with their debt problems,” Georgieva said in the tweet.

Source: Voice of America