Vatican City, May 28, 2016 / 06:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday, Pope Francis met with the president of the Republic of Singapore, marking 35 years of diplomatic relations between the Southeast Asian country and the Holy See, and the first ever state visit by a Singaporean president to a Pope.
During the visit, President Tony Tan Keng Yam and the pontiff addressed topics relating to “the importance of interreligious and intercultural dialogue for the promotion of human rights, stability, justice and peace in south-east Asia,” according to a statement by the Holy See press office.
The “cordial discussion” also addressed the “good relations between the Holy See and Singapore,” and the “collaboration between the Church and the State, especially in the educational and social fields,” the statement continues.
After the meeting, Pope Francis gave President Tan a medal of peace, explaining how government is about bringing people together.
The Pope then presented a copy of his encyclical Laudato, Si' to the president, who in turn thanked the pontiff for speaking out about climate change, saying: “it is a big problem.”
The president for his part gave the pontiff an etching of Singapore's Gardens by the Bay nature park, and a book of about the country's exotic flowers.
President Tan also met with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, along with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.
The May 28 meeting at the Vatican comes at the final leg of the president's week-long State Visit, during which he stopped in Rome and Venice.
Diplomatic relations between Singapore and the Holy See officially began June 24, 1981 under the pontificate of St. John Paul II.
Since 1965, Singapore has also had relations with Italy, one of the first countries to recognize its status of independence.
Erbil, Iraq, May 28, 2016 / 05:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday, the first of three rounds of displaced Iraqi children made their First Communion in a refugee camp in Erbil, providing a silver lining to an otherwise bleak situation.
Out of the 5,500 people living in Erbil’s Aishty 2 camp for the displaced, the majority – more than 2,000 – are children. Of these, 470 will make their First Communion in the coming weeks.
The number of children receiving the sacrament is up from last year’s class, which numbered about 400.
Since this year’s number of recipients is so high, the children have been divided into three groups. The first, numbering around 175, made their First Communion on Friday, May 27.
Next Friday, June 3, a second group of about 145 will receive the Eucharist, while the third and final group of about 150 will receive the sacrament Friday, June 10.
All of the children are from the Syriac-Catholic rite, and most fled the city of Qaraqosh, the former Christian capitol of Iraqi Kurdistan, with their families when ISIS militants attacked the night of Aug. 6, 2014.
The May 27 Mass for the first group was celebrated by Syriac-Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Yohanno Petros Moshe in the camp’s large, prefabricated church.
With a capacity for roughly 800 people, the church started out as a tent when the Christian refugees first poured into Erbil two years ago, asking for a place to pray. Now it serves as the main parish for the city’s Aishty camp, which is the largest in Erbil and is divided into three smaller camps: Aishty 1, 2 and 3.
The majority of people in the camp are from Qaraqosh, which is where the former See of their Church had been located before ISIS’ assault in 2014.
After moving the official See of their Church from Mosul to Qaraqosh several years ago due to both security concerns and the fact that most of the faithful resided in the city, Syriac-Catholics have now been left without any official diocese or headquarters whatsoever.
Now residing in a largely Chaldean dominated Erbil, they have been welcomed by the local Church and are working daily to keep up the spirits of their faithful, who face an uncertain future in the country.
For nearly 500 children to receive their First Communion in the camp is a sign of hope in a place where the flame of Christianity is flickering, growing dangerously closer to burning out.
Another sign of hope for Iraq’s Christians was the March ordination of four deacons in the same prefabricated parish. They are now working with refugees around the clock, and will likely be ordained priests in a few months’ time.
Three of the deacons, alongside the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena – who largely make up the backbone of Erbil’s extensive displaced Christian community – have been in charge of teaching the children’s catechesis in scripture and liturgy.