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Russian Catholic leaders pledge to work with Putin after election win

March 22nd, 2018 Posted in International News Tags: ,


Catholic News Service
WARSAW, Poland — Russia’s minority Catholic Church has pledged to help build a civil society after the nation’s March 18 election and called on President Vladimir Putin to “justify voters’ confidence” after his victory.

“Our church always stresses its readiness to work with the Russian Federation’s secular powers on important issues, such as building a civil society and forming healthy life patterns,” said Msgr. Igor Kovalevsky, secretary-general of the Russian bishops’ conference. “Although we don’t currently face any special barriers to our service on Russian territory, we suffer the same problems as the rest of society with bureaucracy, corruption and the ambiguous implementation of laws.”

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Jewish leader: Polish church should speak out as anti-Semitism rises

March 7th, 2018 Posted in International News Tags:


WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s leading Jewish philosopher urged the Catholic Church to condemn a wave of anti-Jewish feeling, sparked by a new law on responsibility for Holocaust crimes.

“We have not witnessed such anti-Jewish outbursts for a long time; people are afraid, and our youngsters are talking about emigrating,” said Stanislaw Krajewski, a Warsaw University professor who co-chairs the Polish Council of Christians and Jews.

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Mali’s Catholic church works to free abducted Franciscan nun

February 4th, 2018 Posted in International News Tags: ,


Catholic News Service

OXFORD, England — Mali’s Catholic Church said it hopes to obtain the release of a kidnapped Franciscan nun after her Islamist captors released a video showing her pleading with the pope to help save her life.

“Although we’ve had no contact so far, we’ve set up a special office, with telephone and WhatsApp connections, hoping her abductors will explain how she can be freed,” said Msgr. Noel Bernard Coulibaly, Caritas director in Mali’s southern Sikasso Diocese.

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Belgian euthanasia law scrutinized for failure to report abuses

January 12th, 2018 Posted in International News Tags: ,


OXFORD, England (CNS) — Catholics in Belgium are concerned the country’s euthanasia law is being abused to kill patients without legal checks and safeguards.

Auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols of Mechelen-Brussels said “not just the church’s hierarchy, but doctors and medical professionals as well” were concerned.

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Belgian Brothers of Charity reject Vatican order to stop euthanizing patients


Catholic News Service

Belgium’s Brothers of Charity Group, which runs 15 centers for psychiatric patients, has rejected a Vatican order to stop offering euthanasia.

In a Sept. 12 statement, the organization said it had not been given a chance to explain its “vision statement and argumentation.”

Activists take part in an anti-euthanasia protest Feb. 11, 2014, in Brussels. Assisted suicide and euthanasia were legalized in traditionally Catholic Belgium in 2002 A group of psychiatric care centers run by a Catholic religious order in Belgium is rejecting a Vatican order to stop euthanizing “nonterminal” mentally ill patients on its premises. (CNS photo/Julien Warnand, EPA)

It added that it “always took into account shifts and evolutions within society,” and “emphatically believed” its euthanasia program was consistent with the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

“In our facilities, we deal with patients’ requests for euthanasia for mental suffering in a nonterminal situation with the utmost caution,” said the organization, whose board members include Herman Van Rompuy, a former European Council president and former Belgian prime minister.

“We take unbearable and hopeless suffering and patients’ requests for euthanasia seriously. On the other hand, we want to protect life and ensure euthanasia is performed only if there is no more possibility of providing a reasonable treatment perspective to the patient,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, a Sept. 12 statement from Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the Brothers of Charity in Rome, said he “deplores the fact that there is no willingness to negotiate” the text of the vision statement on the part of the Belgian organization.

“He does not understand that a board of directors does not want to take into account experts from the field that have expressed clear objections to the text,” the statement said.

An initial deadline of the end of August to settle the disagreement was delayed until Sept. 11, the statement explained, to allow further negotiations to take place.

But it said that the scheduled talks were “shot down” because Professor Rik Torfs, a former rector of Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven called into mediate the dispute, “could no longer put his trust in the Brothers of Charity organization in Belgium.”

The statement said: “The superior general remains open to dialogue, provided that this dialogue is about the content of the vision text, and thus whether or not to apply euthanasia within the walls of the institutions of the Brothers of Charity, and not about a ‘modus vivendi’ (agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist until a final settlement is reached).

“He will however resubmit the current situation to the competent authorities in the Vatican before taking further action,” it said.

The Belgian church’s Cathobel news agency said Sept. 12 the Brothers of Charity Group lay chairman, Raf De Rycke, a former economics professor, had agreed euthanasia requests would now be examined “with greater circumspection than previously,” but conceded that the order’s hospitals were not yet ready to accept more restrictive guidelines.

The agency added that at least three organization members had not declared their attitude to the Sept. 12 announcement, despite “claims of unanimity.”

In August, Brother Rene Stockman told Catholic News Service that Pope Francis gave his personal approval to a Vatican demand that the Brothers of Charity reverse its policy by the end of August. He said brothers who serve on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group must each sign a joint letter to their superior general declaring that they “fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end.”

Brother Stockman told CNS that if the group refused to bow to the ultimatum, “then we will take juridical steps in order to force them to amend the text (of the new policy) and, if that is not possible, then we have to start the procedure to exclude the hospitals from the Brothers of Charity family and take away their Catholic identity.”

He said if any of the brothers refused to sign the letter upholding Catholic teaching against euthanasia, “then also we will start the correct procedure foreseen in canon law.”

Geert Lesarge, press secretary of the Brussels-based Belgian bishops’ conference, criticized the decision and reiterated support for the Vatican Sept. 13.

He told Catholic News Service that attempts by Torfs to mediate the dispute had failed. He said church leaders were ready to debate “matters of principle,” but not “medical practices at specific hospitals.”

Assisted suicide and euthanasia were legalized in traditionally Catholic Belgium in 2002, a year after the neighboring Netherlands, and euthanasia deaths are increasing by 27 percent annually, according to Health Ministry data.

At least a dozen patients in the Brothers of Charity care are believed to have requested euthanasia over the past year, with two transferred elsewhere to receive deadly injections.

The Brothers of Charity Group is considered the most important provider of mental health care services in the Flanders region of Belgium, where they serve 5,000 patients a year.

Besides Belgium and the Netherlands, euthanasia and assisted suicide are also legal in Luxembourg and deemed “nonpunishable” in Switzerland. Poll data suggest most Europeans favor euthanasia laws if backed with safeguards.

     Contributing to this story was Simon Caldwell in Manchester, England.

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Polish archbishop says Vatican will recognize Medjugorje visions


Catholic News Service

WARSAW, Poland — A Polish archbishop who inspected Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Medjugorje shrine for the pope predicted the Vatican will soon recognize its Marian apparitions.

Pilgrims pray in front of a statue of Mary in 2011 on Apparition Hill in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga, Poland, who inspected the shrine for Pope Francis, predicts the Vatican will soon recognize its Marian apparitions. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has passed all documentation to the Secretariat of State, everything suggests the apparitions will be accepted before the year ends,” said Archbishop Henryk Hoser.

“It’s difficult to believe the six visionaries have been lying for 36 years,” the archbishop said. “What they say is coherent, and none is mentally disturbed, while the apparitions’ faithfulness to church doctrine is also a powerful argument for their authenticity.”

The archbishop spoke as he completed a report from his spring mission to the hilltop shrine, which has not been officially recognized by the church despite 2.5 million pilgrims annually.

He told Poland’s Catholic Information Agency, KAI, he had found an “exceptional atmosphere” of “spiritual creativeness” at Medjugorje, characterized by “prayer, silence, meditation, Eucharist, adoration, fasting and reconciliation.”

He added that the shrine was seeing “huge dynamic growth,” in contrast to older sanctuaries in Portugal, France and Poland and had succeeded in remaining “a true place for pilgrims” while “eliminating tourist elements.”

“Everything is moving in a good direction. My mission wasn’t aimed at closing Medjugorje down, but at evaluating whether pastoral work is being properly organized there in line with church teaching,” Archbishop Hoser said.

“My conclusions are that it is, and my impression is highly positive,” he told KAI.

Six teenagers claim to have seen the Virgin Mary June 24, 1981, near Medjugorje. Since then, they have reported more than 42,000 apparitions at the site, which was largely untouched by the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Local bishop doesn’t agree

In April, the then-prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, told KAI ageny it still could “take a long time” for the Vatican to rule on the apparitions, despite Archbishop Hoser’s pastoral visitation.

Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, the local ordinary, has consistently dismissed the Medjugorje apparitions as false, like his predecessor, Bishop Pavao Zanic, and appealed to bishops abroad not to support pilgrimages there.

However, in March, Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, defended the shrine as “Europe’s largest confessional,” and said he counted on the Vatican to appreciate its evangelical potential in generating “conversions and acts of grace.”

Pope Francis told reporters traveling with him from Fatima, Portugal, in May that the most important fact about Medjugorje is “the spiritual fact, the pastoral fact” that thousands of pilgrims go to Medjugorje and are converted. “For this there is no magic wand; this spiritual-pastoral fact cannot be denied.”

The spiritual fruits of the pilgrimages, he said, are the reason why in February he appointed Archbishop Hoser to study the best ways to provide pastoral care to townspeople and the pilgrims.

Speaking to reporters May 13, Pope Francis gave no indication of when a final pronouncement about the alleged apparitions would be made. However, the said that a commission set up by then-Pope Benedict XVI had spent years investigating the phenomenon and tended to believe the apparitions in that first week of the summer of 1981 may have been real, but the continued reports of apparitions are questionable.

Furthermore, Pope Francis told the press, “personally, I am more ‘mischievous.’ I prefer Our Lady to be a mother, our mother, and not a telegraph operator who sends out a message every day at a certain time; this is not the mother of Jesus.”

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Pope, Catholic leaders urge prayers after terrorist attacks in Spain


Catholic News Service

Spanish church leaders urged prayers and national unity after two terrorist attacks left at least 19 people dead.

Pope Francis, U.S. bishops and others weighed in with prayers and rejection of the Aug. 17 attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, where cars drove into pedestrians. The Islamic State group claimed credit for the attacks. Fourteen were killed in Barcelona; one pedestrian and five suspects were killed in Cambrils.

Medics move an injured person after a van crashed into pedestrians in the Las Ramblas district of Barcelona, Spain, Aug. 17. Terrorists killed at least 12 and injured more than 50 others. (CNS photo/Quique Garcia, EPA)

“People are deeply shocked and saddened by this totally random event,” said Msgr. Josep Ramon Perez, dean of Barcelona’s Catholic cathedral. “While many are naturally asking what’s happening to the world to make such things possible, many also recognize that the most important response is to pray for peace.”

Thousands attended a midday vigil Aug. 18 in Barcelona’s Plaza de Catalunya, attended by Spanish King Felipe VI and government and political party leaders from across the country. Spanish police asked mourners not to bring bags or backpacks to the vigil, which was accompanied by parallel commemorations in Madrid and other cities, as well as at the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels.

Barcelona Cardinal Juan Jose Omella interrupted his retreat Aug. 17 to return to his city and be close to his people. The Archdiocese of Barcelona released photographs of him visiting victims of the attack at the hospital.

In a message to Cardinal Omella, Pope Francis denounced the “cruel terrorist attack” in Barcelona and said such “blind violence,” which sows death and pain, is “a great offense to the Creator.”

The papal message, sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, included prayers for the eternal repose of the dead, and for their families.

Pope Francis, it said, also prayed that God “would help us continue working with determination for peace and harmony in the world.”

In an interview Aug. 18, Msgr. Perez said Barcelona’s cathedral and neighboring churches had been closed after the attack as part of a security lockdown, forcing visitors and pilgrims to remain inside until late evening.

“The terrorists who carried out this action have nothing to do with ordinary people here,” Msgr. Perez said, noting that “local Muslims are just as shocked and horrified as everyone else.”

Candles, flowers and messages of solidarity were placed in memory of victims at various city locations.

Meanwhile, the Tarraconense bishops’ conference, grouping Catholic bishops from Spain’s Catalonia region, said members were “completely dismayed” by the “barbarity of the attack and the contempt it implies for human life and its dignity,” adding that Barcelona and its inhabitants had always been “committed to the cause of peace and justice.”

In an Aug. 18 interview with the Spanish church’s COPE news agency, Cardinal Ricardo Blasquez, president of the Madrid-based bishops’ conference, said Spaniards would be “especially beaten” after the Barcelona outrage, which had “inflicted a wound on everyone.” He urged citizens to remember that Muslims were “the main victims” of Islamic State and not to “criminalize” them for the attack or “identify terrorism with Islam.”

“Far from being terrorist violence, the true road to building a future of peace, now and forever, lies in respect for all people,” Cardinal Blasquez said.

Following the first attack, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, said the bishops’ conference “unequivocally condemns this morally heinous act and places itself in solidarity with the people of the Archdiocese of Barcelona and Spain at this terrible time of loss and grief.”

“Terrorist attacks on innocent civilians can never be justified,” he said. “To directly attack innocent men, women and children is utterly reprehensible.”

The attack is the latest of several in which trucks and vans had been driven at high speed through pedestrian zones in Europe.

In an Aug. 18 message, Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the bishops’ conference in neighboring France, said the Barcelona atrocity was “an insult to the Creator,” and would unite Catholics in their determination that “evil will not have the last word.”

In Nice, France, in July 2016, 86 people were killed and 458 injured in a similar attack with a 19-ton truck.

The Las Ramblas attack was Spain’s worst since March 2004, when Islamist militants detonated 10 bombs on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800.

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Pierogies with the pope: World Youth Day volunteers get papal advice at lunch


Catholic News Service

KRAKOW, Poland — Pope Francis has a “stomach of iron” and considers the German Richard Wagner his favorite composer, said young Catholics who lunched privately with him July 30 during World Youth Day.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with young people attending World Youth Day during a lunch in Krakow, Poland, July 30. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout) .

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with young people attending World Youth Day during a lunch in Krakow, Poland, July 30. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout) .

Thirteen World Youth Day organizers from a dozen countries shared the meal at the cardinal’s residence. They were chosen by lottery to attend the 80-minute encounter, during which questions were put to the pope in Italian and Spanish with simultaneous translations. Organizers said participants were notified three weeks earlier of their selection from among World Youth Day volunteers of at least three months’ standing.

Malgorzata Krupnik, who was one of two Poles at the lunch, said she had been “very nervous and unsure what to expect,” but said her stress had vanished as soon as the pope arrived.

“As we sat there, he said, ‘Speak to me; I want to talk to you.’ He was really optimistic, lighthearted and humorous, and not at all stiff and severe,” Krupnik said.

“We talked about practical things, not just philosophy. It was really like being at home and at the end, he hugged each of us, smiling, in a very Franciscan way. I felt an amazing internal peace to meet him so closely.”

Paula Mora of Colombia said Pope Francis advised them to be “guided by their hearts” when seeking to evangelize.

“We asked how he’d felt when he was elected pope, and he said he’d experienced the gift of inner peace from God, which is still with him,” said Mora said. “You can feel this peace and humility when you speak to him. It was as if we were children meeting their father over a normal family lunch.”

Quan Vu Hong, a young Vietnamese on the World Youth Day’s organization committee, said he could barely contain his emotion and disbelief at having been among those chosen to dine with the pope.

“It’s the first time I have an opportunity to have a meal with one of the most important people in the world,” he told CNS. “I was chosen from among hundreds of thousands of young people, and I will never forget this day.”

Hong said he also had asked the pope how youths could live as faithful Christians in today’s world.

He told us “the first thing to do is to accompany others to a life of faith,” Hong said. The pope, he added, impressed upon them the importance of prayer and confession, even giving them tips on how to confess to a priest.

Hong also noted Pope Francis’ easygoing nature, saying it was the most touching quality of all.

“He took a selfie with us and joked around during lunch. It made us closer to him and we did not feel he was a pope anymore. He was a father for us,” Hong said.

Fatima Leung-Wai, a 28-year-old Samoan from New Zealand, told CNS there was a “mix of emotions” at the meeting, adding that some youngsters had been moved to tears when a Ukrainian Catholic, Uliana Zurawczak, described conditions in her war-torn country.

She added that the pope declined to list his preferred reading, but said he routinely ate anything and had a “stomach of iron.”

The New Zealander, who gave up her engineer’s job to work as a World Youth Day volunteer, said Pope Francis was asked his opinion of Catholic charismatic communities and also described how he discovered his priestly vocation while making his confession at age 17. Later, she said, he again stressed the importance of regular confessions and advised young Catholics to “find another priest” if they disliked their regular confessor.

“As a young Catholic, trying my best to live the faith in today’s world, when it’s so easy not to believe, it was really important to meet an authority who was open, humble and at peace and would allow me to be myself,” she said. “If you’re going to follow the church, in all your daily struggles, you need to know its leader is genuine and can be trusted. But the pope also asked us to pray for him, since it’s not easy being the church’s leader.”

Poland’s Catholic information agency, KAI, said the youths ate a hearty traditional Polish meal with the pope, which included beef soup, rice with pieces of pork, as well as traditional dumplings, known as pierogi, and sernik, a popular Polish cheesecake made with a local curdled cheese known as twarog.

The Krakow Archdiocese’s deputy spokesman, Father Piotr Studnicki, told KAI the lunch was prepared by Sacred Heart sisters, who also had cooked for St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI during their visits to the city.


Contributing to this story was Junno Arocho.

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‘No easy answers’ — Pope Francis visits sick children at Krakow hospital


Catholic News Service

KRAKOW, Poland — Questions about suffering have “no easy answers,” Pope Francis said in a visit to Children’s University Hospital.

Pope Francis blesses a girl during a visit to the Children's University Hospital in Krakow, Poland, July 29. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis blesses a girl during a visit to the Children’s University Hospital in Krakow, Poland, July 29. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

“How I would wish that we Christians could be as close to the sick as Jesus was, embracing them and willingly seeking them out,” Pope Francis said. “Sadly, our society is tainted by the culture of waste, which is the opposite of the culture of acceptance. And the victims of the culture of waste are those who are weakest and most frail; and this is indeed cruel.”

The brief ceremony in the hospital reception area, before a statue of St. John Paul II lifting a child, took place before 50 children in wheelchairs, some hairless from cancer treatment, clasping rosaries and papal flags. Addressing patients, parents and staff, Pope Francis said he was grateful for the sign of love offered by those welcoming and caring for “the smallest and most needy.”

He told those gathered: “To serve with love and tenderness persons who need our help makes all of us grow in humanity. … Those who engage in works of mercy have no fear of death.”

Looking solemn after his address, the pope recited the Hail Mary and delivered a blessing, before greeting the young patients and their parents, with the sound of crying children in the background.

Pope Francis said he wished to “draw near to all children who are sick, to stand at their bedside and embrace them,” adding that Jesus was “always attentive” and “moved by compassion” toward the sick, regarding them “in the same way that a mother looks at her sick child.”

However, he added that families sometimes felt “alone in providing care,” and said he wished to “listen to everyone here, even if for only a moment, and be still before questions that have no easy answers.”

“From this place, so full of concrete signs of love, I would like to say: Let us multiply the works of the culture of acceptance, works inspired by Christian love,” Pope Francis said.

“I encourage all those who have made the Gospel call to visit the sick a personal life decision: physicians, nurses, health care workers, chaplains and volunteers. May the Lord help you to do your work well, here as in every hospital in the world.”

He later visited the emergency unit and prayed in the chapel, accompanied by Father Lucjan Szczepaniak, one of 500 Catholic chaplains ministering full-time at Poland’s 550 state hospitals.

Dr. Maciej Kowalczyk, hospital director, said the children’s hospital represented the last chance for many severely sick children. He said he hoped the pope’s words and prayers would give patients and their parents “strength and hope to overcome their illnesses.”

Children’s University Hospital admits around 36,000 seriously ill young patients per year and treats 180,000 outpatients. It was founded in 1965 with finding from the U.S. government and Poles abroad.

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Krakow police raise security threat level at World Youth Day but say no concrete danger


Catholic News Service

KRAKOW, Poland — Polish police have raised the official security threat level at World Youth Day in Krakow, after an Iraqi man was arrested with traces of explosives.

Police officers stand guard during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26. Mariusz Ciarka, spokesman for Poland's Warsaw-based police headquarters, said Polish police have raised the official threat level after an Iraqi man was arrested with traces of explosives. (CNS photo/David W. Cerny, Reuters)

Police officers stand guard during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26. Mariusz Ciarka, spokesman for Poland’s Warsaw-based police headquarters, said Polish police have raised the official threat level after an Iraqi man was arrested with traces of explosives. (CNS photo/David W. Cerny, Reuters)

However, a police spokesman said the category of high, was not linked to any “concrete threat,” adding that security arrangements were “proceeding smoothly” for the expected arrival of 2 million young people in the southern city.

“We’re determined to assure maximum security for all, and our staffers are doing everything they should,” said Mariusz Ciarka, spokesman for Poland’s Warsaw-based police headquarters.

“But we’re also urging everyone to be vigilant and to inform the police or Youth Day volunteers if they see anything suspicious, such as baggage or packs left unattended, and to show understanding if we implement selective controls and movement restrictions. Safety of such a huge gathering of people is what’s most important,” Ciarka said July 26 ahead of the official opening ceremony World Youth Day.

Officials were expecting half a million young people to attend opening ceremonies from 187 countries in Krakow’s Blonia Park.

He said security services had so far noted only “minor incidents,” such as lost documents and small injuries, as well as a July 25 bus crash in which no one was reported injured.

He said police were using mobile X-ray devices and metal detectors, as well as using dogs trained to detect explosives, at railway and bus stations and major road hubs around the city, as well as anywhere crowds gathered.

Gas tankers and large trucks had been barred from Krakow, Ciarka said, after a 19-ton truck was driven into a celebration in Nice, France, July 15.

Security fears are high in Europe in the wake of the Nice outrage and a spate of Islamist-linked attacks in neighboring Germany, as well as the July 26 killing of French Father Jacques Hamel, 84, during an attack during a Mass at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for that attack.

Polish police said they had arrested a 48-year-old Iraqi man July 24 in Krakow, after explosive traces were found in his luggage and his clothes, as well as at hotels where he had stayed in Krakow and Lodz.

However, a Krakow prosecutor told journalists there were no grounds for charging the man with terrorism and said not enough explosive material had been detected to cause an explosion.

Ciarka said July 26 that 200 people had so far been barred from entering the country.

The police spokesman said drones and “unauthorized flying objects” had also been banned over a 65-mile zone around Krakow, as well as over the nearby city of Czestochowa, where Pope Francis will celebrate an open-air Mass July 29.

The carrying of arms and dangerous substances had also been outlawed, Ciarka added, as well as any objects normally not permitted aboard planes.

“From today, all movements are being limited around Krakow, as well as at Blonia and the Lagiewniki suburb, where pedestrians will have total priority,” the police official said. “The Polish government has given the police the task of serving society by ensuring this huge event passes off safely, and that’s what we will do.”

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