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The story of suffering and death behind Ireland's ban and subsequent legalization of abortion

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Greek Leader Set for Talks With Biden Over Turkey, Energy 

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Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis flies to Washington for talks with President Joe Biden on Monday, their first since the U.S. leader entered office. Mitsotakis is expected to discuss Turkey and efforts to ease brewing tensions between the two countries and NATO allies. But as the conflict in Ukraine rages, talks will also focus on efforts to turn Greece into an EU energy gateway, easing reliance on Russian gas and oil. The timing of Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ visit to Washington is crucial, Greek officials say. Relations between Turkey and Greece are strained, and Mitsotakis will lose no time, his aides say, in citing what they call “repeated provocations” that Turkey has been waging in recent weeks… ordering warplanes to conduct a record number of dangerous overflights through Greek airspace – violations that could spark conflict between the two sides and greater instability to Europe’s already troubled landscape. But rather than just complain, Greek administration officials, like Kostis Hadzidakis, say Mitsotakis has some offerings of interest to the U.S. “We don’t want to go there whining, complaining and begging for action in our favor,” he says. “We want to showcase Greece as a credible and reliable ally,” he said. On the defense front, Mitsotakis plans to pitch Greek assistance in building F-35 warplanes — a project that its rival neighbor, Turkey, was once part of. However, in 2019, Ankara was ousted after agreeing to purchase from Moscow a Russian surface-to-air missile system — a serious breach of NATO rules. With Tukey also raising objections to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, that incentive, say experts in Athens, could prove appealing for U.S. interests. It remains unclear, though, whether it will move forward. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will be in Washington a day after Mitsotakis, and as the Greek leader will be addressing Congress for the first time, the Turkish official will be meeting with his U.S. counterpart to work out details of Ankara’s bid to purchase 40 new F-16 aircraft. On Sunday, the eve of Mitsotakis’ White House meeting, the Biden administration asked Congress to approve the sale of weapons and equipment upgrades to Turkey’s fleet of American-made F-16 fighter jets, a sign of thawing relations between the NATO allies as the Russian war in Ukraine drags on. The development leaves Greece to play the energy card, experts here say, appealing to U.S. interests in a climate of what diplomats like George Koumoutsakos call rapidly changing geopolitics as the conflict in Ukraine continues. “Everything is changing in our region,” Koumoutsakos said. “A new balance of powers will clearly emerge with the end of the conflict in Ukraine. And the question is where Greece wants to be: on the side of the powerful and with an upgraded in the greater region?” In a lucrative project, Greece plans to finish building a pipeline to Bulgaria that will end Russia’s gas monopoly there and for the rest of southeast Europe. The importance of the so-called Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, or the IGB, is that it could soon become a key conduit supplanting Russian gas throughout the Balkans, with liquefied natural gas, known as LNG, from the U.S., Qatar, Egypt and elsewhere. Floating storage facilities for LNG are also being built in the northern Greek region of Alexandroupolis, potentially giving Greece the opportunity to turn the country into a key gateway of LNG to southeast Europe and beyond. Once complete, the energy project could reduce reliance on Russian energy and designs by Russian President Vladimir Putin - to use energy in what analysts call a “risky geopolitical game.”

Sandstorm Closes Schools, Offices and Halts Flights in Iraq

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A heavy sandstorm in Iraq, the latest of what Iraqis say is an unprecedented number to hit the country in recent weeks, closed some state schools and offices and halted flights at Baghdad International Airport on Monday. Authorities in Baghdad, including the Education Ministry, declared a day off for local government institutions, with the exception of health services. Hundreds of people across the capital and southern cities went to hospitals with breathing difficulties, medical officials said. Baghdad International Airport said in a statement it was closing its airspace and halting all flights until further notice because of low visibility. At least one sandstorm a week has hit Iraq in the past few weeks in what Iraqis say is the worst such spate in living memory. "It's every three or four days now," said taxi driver Ahmed Zaman, 23. "It's clearly a result of climate change and lack of rain, whenever there's wind it just kicks up dust and sand." In Baghdad and southern Iraqi cities, a red haze of dust and sand reduced visibility to just a few hundred feet. "We've had 75 cases of people with respiratory problems," said Ihsan Mawlood, an accident and emergency doctor in a Baghdad hospital. "We're treating patients with oxygen machines if necessary." Iraq is the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to the climate crisis, according to the United Nations.   Drought and extreme temperatures are drying up farmland and making large parts of Iraq barely habitable during the summer months. The country posted record temperatures of at least 52 degrees Celsius in recent years.

First Commercial Flight in Years Takes off From Yemen's Sanaa 

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The first commercial flight in six years took off from Yemen’s rebel-held capital on Monday, officials said, part of a fragile truce in the county’s grinding civil war. The Yemen Airways flight, with 151 passengers on board, was bound for Jordan’s capital of Amman, according to media outlets run by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Earlier, the plane had arrived in Sanaa from the southern port city of Aden to pick up the passengers. On touchdown, it was welcomed by a ceremonial “water salute,” according to a video posted online by the national carrier. The Houthi media office said a return flight was expected back in Sanaa from Amman later Monday. The flight is part of the U.N.-brokered, 60-day truce agreement that the internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels struck last month. The truce, which went into effect on April 2, is the first nationwide cease-fire in Yemen in six years. The truce accord calls for two commercial flights a week to and from Sana'a to Jordan and Egypt. The Houthi-held Sanaa is blockaded by the Saudi-led coalition, which backs the internationally recognized government. The closure of the airport has inflicted major economic and humanitarian damage — thousands of people had lost their jobs as businesses providing services closed down or suffered heavy losses. Before the blockade, the Sana'a airport had an estimated of 6,000 passengers a day, and more than 2 million passengers every year, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, an international charity working in Yemen. The flight was initially due to take off on April 2 but a dispute over passports issued by the Houthis had delayed the departure date. This time, the internationally recognized government allowed passengers with Houthi-issued documents to board the flight. The government-run SABA news agency said last week that new Yemeni passports would be issued in Jordan for those arriving with Houthi-issued travel documents. Erin Hutchinson, Yemen director at the Norwegian Refugee Council, said the take-off of the first flight was a “stepping stone towards a lasting peace for Yemen.” “The long overdue reopening of the airport was one of the major objectives of the truce," she said, urging warring parties to work towards implementing other elements of the deal, including reopening of roads around the government-held Taiz and other provinces. Along with the flights, the truce also included allowing 18 vessels carrying fuel into the Red Sea port of Hodeida, which is controlled by the Houthis, over a two-month period. The cease-fire came amid concerted international and regional efforts to find a settlement to the conflict that has devastated the Arab world’s poorest country and pushed it to the brink of famine. Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in early 2015 to try restore the government to power. Despite daily violations reported by both sides, major ground and air clashes have subsided and the rebels have stopped their cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, another pillar of the anti-Houthi coalition.

Spokesperson: Iran's Foreign Minister to Visit UAE on Monday

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Iran's top diplomat is expected to visit the United Arab Emirates on Monday, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said, welcoming the appointment of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan as the Gulf state's president last week.  "Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian is planning to travel to the UAE today," Saeed Khatibzadeh told a televised weekly news conference.  Iranian state media said Amirabdollahian had left Tehran to pay respects to the Gulf country's late President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed who died Friday.  Amirabdollahian's visit is the highest-level trip by an Iranian official to the Gulf country since Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi movement launched a deadly strike on the United Arab Emirates in January.  In 2019, the UAE started engaging with Iran following attacks on tankers off Gulf waters and on Saudi energy infrastructure.  Iran's deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani visited the UAE in November, when he said the two countries had agreed to open a new chapter in bilateral relations.  United Arab Emirates strongman Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who was formally elected president on Saturday, led a realignment of the Middle East that created a new anti-Iran axis with Israel and fought a rising tide of political Islam in the region.    

Harris and Blinken Pay US Condolences in Abu Dhabi, Seek to Boost Ties

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U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Abu Dhabi, joining a high-ranking U.S. delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris, to pay his condolence to the family of the late President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who died last Friday. Harris and Blinken are expected to meet with late president’s brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, who is the country’s new president and already an influential power broker in the Middle East and beyond. It is the highest-level visit to date by the Biden administration to the oil-rich country, a financial hub in the region. The delegation also includes Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns and Climate Envoy John Kerry. Before her departure, Vice President Harris said she was traveling on behalf of President Joe Biden to pay her respects. Analysts also view the visit as an important gesture to boost America’s strained relations with the UAE. Abu Dhabi has been frustrated with the Biden administration for lifting a terrorist designation on Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who have fired missiles and drones at the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The UAE and other Gulf States also oppose efforts by the Biden administration to revive the international Iran nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of in 2018. For its part, Washington has asked both the UAE and Saudi Arabia to pump more oil since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, to lower soaring gas prices and improve stability in energy markets as Europe tries to start weaning itself off Russian oil and natural gas. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have rejected Washington’s demands, seeking to maintain good relations with Russia. Blinken arrived in Abu Dhabi from Paris, where he had a working dinner with his French counterpart, Jean Yves Le Drian. The State Department said the two top diplomats discussed “issues of importance in the bilateral relationship, especially the urgent need to confront global food insecurity exacerbated by Russia’s” war in Ukraine and efforts to achieve a mutual return to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA. Blinken’s first stop in this tour was in Berlin, where he met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba Sunday. They also discussed plans to work together to ensure that Ukrainian food exports reach consumers in Africa and Asia. Berlin hosted a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, called to discuss the situation in the ground on Ukraine and to coordinate efforts to provide Ukraine with the humanitarian assistance and the weapons it needs to defend itself against Russia. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has caused food prices to soar and raised the threat of famine in many parts of the world. Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven countries meeting in Germany Saturday called on the Russian government to end its blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, to free up exports of critically needed Ukrainian grain, fertilizer and other agricultural products. Blinken and the other NATO foreign ministers also discussed Finland’s decision to apply to join NATO without delay. The U.S. has said it would support both Finland and Sweden’s applications to join the transatlantic security alliance. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto in a phone call Saturday that any attempt by Helsinki to join NATO would harm bilateral relations. Finland’s leaders see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a threat to their country’s security, since the two countries share a 1,340-kilometer border. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had also expressed concerns about Finland and NATO joining the alliance. Blinken said Turkey has not said it will block Helsinki from joining, and that the application is a “process,” and NATO is a place for discussion.

Iran's foreign minister to visit UAE on Monday

about 14 hours ago

Iran's top diplomat is expected to visit the United Arab Emirates on Monday, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said, welcoming the appointment of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan as the Gulf state's president last week.  "Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian is planning to travel to the UAE today," Saeed Khatibzadeh told a televised weekly news conference.  Iranian state media said Amirabdollahian had left Tehran to pay respects to the Gulf country's late President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed who died Friday.  Amirabdollahian's visit is the highest-level trip by an Iranian official to the Gulf country since Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi movement launched a deadly strike on the United Arab Emirates in January.  In 2019, the UAE started engaging with Iran following attacks on tankers off Gulf waters and on Saudi energy infrastructure.  Iran's deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani visited the UAE in November, when he said the two countries had agreed to open a new chapter in bilateral relations.  United Arab Emirates strongman Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who was formally elected president on Saturday, led a realignment of the Middle East that created a new anti-Iran axis with Israel and fought a rising tide of political Islam in the region.    

Convicted Killer Turned Tech Whiz Confronts His Sordid Past

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When he was 20 years old, Harel Hershtik planned and executed a murder, a crime that a quarter of a century later is still widely remembered for its grisly details. Today, he is the brains behind an Israeli health-tech startup, poised to make millions of dollars with the backing of prominent public figures and deep-pocket investors. With his company set to go public, Hershtik's past is coming under new scrutiny, raising questions about whether someone who took a person's life deserves to rehabilitate his own to such an extent. "When I was young, I would say that I was stupid and arrogant," said Hershtik, now 46. "You can be a genius and yet still be very stupid and the two don't contradict each other." Today, Hershtik is the vice president of strategy and technology at Scentech Medical, a company he founded in 2018, while behind bars, which says its product can detect certain diseases through a breath test. In a three-hour interview with The Associated Press, he repeatedly expressed remorse for his crime. Hershtik was convicted of murdering Yaakov Sela, a charismatic snake trapper he met when he was 14. The two had a bumpy relationship. Sela was known for having numerous girlfriends at once, one being Hershtik's mother. Hershtik said he felt uneasy with how Sela treated some of the women, including his mother. In early 1996, Sela discovered that Hershtik had stolen 49,000 shekels (about $15,000 at the time) from him, and the two agreed that instead of involving the police, Hershtik would pay him back double that amount. Court documents say Hershtik instead planned to murder Sela. Pulled over during a drive to gather the money, an accomplice of Hershtik's fired three shots at Sela, using Hershtik's mother's pistol. He then handed Hershtik the gun, according to the documents, and Hershtik shot Sela in the head at close range. The pair shoved Sela's body into the trunk and buried it in a grove in the Golan Heights, according to the documents. Weeks later, hikers saw a hand poking up from the earth, and Sela's body was found. The sensational crime gripped the nation. In court documents, prosecutors say Hershtik lied repeatedly in his attempt to distance himself from the murder. Hershtik said he was compelled to lie so that he could protect the others involved in the scheme, which included his mother. Hershtik was sentenced to life in prison for premeditated murder and obstructing justice, among other crimes. He would serve 25 years, during which time Hershtik earned two doctorates, in math and chemistry, and got married three separate times. He said he established 31 companies, selling six of them. But prison was also a fraught time for Hershtik. He said he spent 11 years in quarantine because of health issues. He was punished twice for setting up internet access to his cell, in one case building a modem out of two dismantled DVD players. Last year, a parole board determined he had been rehabilitated and no longer posed a danger to society. As part of his early release and until 2026, he is under nightly house arrest from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. He must wear a tracking device around his ankle at all times and is barred from leaving the country. A free man, Hershtik sat recently with the AP in his office in the central city of Rehovot, Israel. His start-up is waiting for regulatory approval to merge with a company called NextGen Biomed, which trades on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and would make Scentech public. Hershtik said the company's product is being finalized for detecting COVID-19 through a patient's breath, and it is working to add other diseases such as certain cancers as well as depression. The product is meant to provide on-the-spot results in a non-invasive way. The company has received a patent for its technology in Israel and said it is preparing to apply for FDA approval soon. Hershtik said the merger values the company at around $250 million and that he has raised more than $25 million in funding over the last two years through private Israeli investors. A large part of the investment is from Hershtik's own money, although he won't say how much. Prisoners in Israel aren't barred from doing business, but Hershtik's success is rare. His company is backed by prominent Israeli names, including Yaakov Amidror, who chairs NextGen and is a former chief of the country's National Security Council. "According to the rules of the country, the man is allowed to rehabilitate. He paid his price and he rehabilitated. So there is no reason not to help him rehabilitate," Amidror, who testified to the parole board on Hershtik's behalf, told the AP. But Hershtik's past is already haunting him. Hershtik was demoted from CTO earlier this year to his current position, in part because he didn't want his crime to scare away investors. "Harel has always said if for some reason his presence is a problem and the company would be better off without him, that he's willing to leave the company," said Drew Morris, a board member and investor. As Scentech seeks to take its product to market, investors will need to decide whether Hershtik's rap sheet influences where they put their money. Ishak Saporta, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University's Coller School of Management, said he believed investors would be drawn to the company's potential for profit rather than deterred by Hershtik's history. "What concerns me here is that he became a millionaire. He paid his debt to society in jail. But does he have a commitment to the victim's family," Saporta asked. Tovia Bat-Leah, who had a child with Sela, suggested he help fund her daughter's education or create a reptile museum in Sela's name. "He served his time but he should also make some kind of reparation," she said. Hershtik sees the good that could come about from the company as the ultimate form of repentance. He said he could have used his smarts to create any sort of company with no benefit to society but chose health tech instead. "Trust me, this is not for the money," he said.

US, EU to boost coordination on semiconductor supply, Russia

about 15 hours ago

The United States and the European Union plan to announce on Monday a joint effort aimed at identifying semiconductor supply disruptions as well as countering Russian disinformation, officials said. The U.S. officials are visiting the French scientific hub of Saclay for a meet up of the Trade and Technology Council, created last year as China increasingly exerts its technology clout. U.S. officials acknowledged that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has broadened the council's scope, but said the Western bloc still has its eye on competition from China. The two sides will announce an "early warning system" for semiconductors supply disruptions, hoping to avoid excessive competition between Western powers for the vital tech component. The industry has suffered from a shortage of components for chipmaking, blamed on a boom in global demand for electronic products and pandemic snarled supply chains. "We hope to agree on high levels of subsidies — that they will not be more than what is necessary and proportionate and appropriate," Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, told reporters Sunday. The aim is that "as both Washington and Brussels look to encourage semiconductor investment in our respective countries, we do so in a coordinated fashion and don't simply encourage a subsidy race," a U.S. official said separately, speaking on condition of anonymity. The United States already put in place its own early warning system in 2021 that looked at supply chains in Southeast Asia and "has been very helpful in helping us get ahead of a couple of potential shutdowns earlier this year," the US. .official said. The official added that the two sides are looking ahead to supply disruptions caused by pandemic lockdowns in China — the only major economy still hewing to a zero-Covid strategy. The European Union and United States will also announce joint measures on fighting disinformation and hacking, especially from Russia, including a guide on cybersecurity best practices for small- and medium-sized companies and a task force on trusted technology suppliers, the official said. "It's not a European matter but a global matter," she said. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai are visiting for the talks. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attended an opening dinner on Monday before cutting short his visit to head to Abu Dhabi for the funeral of late leader Sheikh Khalifa.

Biden Heading to Buffalo Following Mass Shooting

about 16 hours ago

U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel Tuesday to the city of Buffalo, New York, where authorities are investigating an attack at a grocery store by what Biden said was a gunman “armed with weapons of war and a hate-filled soul.” The president and his wife, Jill, will “grieve with the community that lost ten lives in a senseless and horrific mass shooting,” according to the White House. Speaking Sunday in Washington, Biden said the U.S. Justice Department is investigating the shooting as “a hate crime, a racially motivated act of white supremacy and violent extremism.” “We must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America,” Biden said. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the shooting, with his spokesman saying Sunday that Guterres was “appalled by the killing of 10 people in a vile act of racist violent extremism in Buffalo.” Authorities identified the 18-year-old shooter as Payton Gendron, of Conklin, New York, about 330 kilometers southeast of Buffalo. He is white and 11 of the 13 shooting victims were Black. Authorities said he carried out the attack while wearing military gear and livestreaming it with a helmet camera. He eventually dropped his weapon and surrendered to police inside the Tops Friendly Market, located in a predominantly Black neighborhood in the city of 255,000 people. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told CBS’s “Face the Nation” show Sunday that police “are going through every element, every detail in this shooter’s background to piece together why this happened, how this happened, and the reason that this person came to the city of Buffalo to perpetrate this horrific crime.” “We are certainly saddened that someone drove from hundreds of miles away, someone not from this community that did not know this community that came here to take as many Black lives as possible, who did this in a willful, premeditated fashion, planning this,” said Brown, who is Buffalo’s first Black mayor. “But we are a strong community, and we will keep moving forward,” he said. “This is a community that is experiencing development. People have been hoping and waiting for investment and growth and opportunity. We won’t let hateful ideology stop the progress that we are seeing and experiencing in the city of Buffalo.” As is often the case after mass shootings in the United States, Brown called on Congress to enact tougher gun control laws, saying, “We have to put more pressure on lawmakers in Washington, those that have been obstructionists, to sensible gun control, to reforming the way guns are allowed to proliferate and fall into the wrong hands in this country.” Such pleas after past mass shootings have mostly gone unheeded, with scant changes in gun control laws. Wearing a hospital gown, Gendron was arraigned in court Saturday night on first-degree murder charges and ordered detained without bail. Another court hearing is scheduled in the coming days. At an earlier news briefing, Erie County Sheriff John Garcia pointedly called the shooting a hate crime. “This was pure evil. It was straight up [a] racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community, outside of the City of Good Neighbors … coming into our community and trying to inflict that evil upon us,” Garcia said. Investigators said they are reviewing a lengthy statement that they suspect was posted online by the gunman describing his white supremacist motivations and ideology. The 180-page document details the author’s radicalization on internet forums, as well as a plan to target a predominantly Black neighborhood. The author also described himself as a fascist and antisemite. The statement repeats a far-right conspiracy theory that baselessly argues that the white population in Western countries is being reduced — or “replaced” — by non-white immigrants. Mayor Brown said the combination of guns and such ideology is combustible. “It’s not just Buffalo, New York. It’s communities in every corner of this country that are unsafe with guns and with the hateful ideology that has been allowed to proliferate on social media and the internet,” he told CBS. “That has to be reined in. That has to be stopped. It’s not free speech. It’s not American speech. It’s hate speech. And it must be ended."

California churchgoers detained gunman in deadly attack

about 17 hours ago

A man opened fire during a lunch reception at a Southern California church on Sunday, killing one person and wounding five senior citizens before being stopped and hog-tied by parishioners in what a sheriff's official called an act of “exceptional heroism and bravery.” Four of the five people wounded suffered critical gunshot injuries during the violence at Geneva Presbyterian Church in the city of Laguna Woods, Orange County Sheriff's Department officials said. The suspect in the shooting, an Asian man in his 60s, was in custody and deputies recovered two handguns at the scene, Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said. A motive for the shooting wasn't immediately known but investigators don't believe the gunman lives in the community, he said. The majority of those inside the church at the time were believed to be of Taiwanese descent, said Carrie Braun, a sheriff's spokesperson. Between 30 and 40 members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church were gathered for lunch after a morning church service at Geneva when gunfire erupted shortly before 1:30 p.m., officials said. When deputies arrived, parishioners had the gunman hog-tied and in custody. “That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities,” Hallock said. “I think it's safe to say that had people not intervened, it could have been much worse.” The wounded victims were four Asian men, who were 66, 75, 82, and 92 years old, and an 86-year-old Asian woman, the sheriff's department said. Authorities originally said only four of the five surviving victims had been shot. Information about the person who was killed was not immediately released. The investigation was in its early stages, Hallock said. He said the many unanswered questions include whether the assailant attended the church service, if he was known to church members, and how many shots were fired. The afternoon lunch reception was honoring a former pastor of the Taiwanese congregation, according to a statement from the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, a church administrative body. “Please keep the leadership of the Taiwanese congregation and Geneva in your prayers as they care for the those traumatized by this shooting,” the presbytery's Tom Cramer said in a statement on Facebook. Federal agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded. The FBI also sent agents to the scene to assist the sheriff. Laguna Woods was built as a senior living community and later became a city. More than 80% of residents in the city of 18,000 people about 80 kilometers southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65. Gov. Gavin Newsom's office said on Twitter that he was closely monitoring the situation. “No one should have to fear going to their place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event,” the tweet said. The incident occurred in an area with a cluster of houses of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches and a Jewish synagogue. On its website, Geneva Presbyterian Church describes its mission as “to remember, tell, and live the way of Jesus by being just, kind, and humble.” “All are welcome here. Really, we mean that! Geneva aspires to be an inclusive congregation worshipping, learning, connecting, giving and serving together.” The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. “This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” said U.S. Rep Katie Porter, whose district includes Laguna Woods. “This should not be our new normal. I will work hard to support the victims and their families.”

North Korea Identifies More COVID-19 Cases as It Copes with Medicine Shortage

about 17 hours ago

North Korea reported more than 392,000 new fever cases detected Sunday, as an additional eight deaths brought the toll of known deaths in its “explosive” fever epidemic to 50, according to state media. Data released by official KCNA on Monday said a cumulative 1,213,550 people in the North had been sickened by the “fever of unknown origins,” since late April through 6 p.m. the previous day. More than half a million people were under medical treatment, while more than 648,630 others had recovered, it said. The number of confirmed COVID-19 patients had also risen to at least 168, North Korean state television KCTV said on Monday, belatedly reporting counts registered through 6 p.m. Saturday. It said Pyongyang remained the epicenter accounting for a quarter of the cases at 42, while 20 others were confirmed in North Pyongan Province, bordering China. Concerning deaths accounted for through Saturday, 22 were caused by symptoms and 17 medical side effects, KCTV said, and that more than half were people in their 50s and older. Among them were also six children under 10 years old. Another emergency meeting of the Workers’ Party political bureau was held Sunday, KCNA said, where leader Kim Jong Un heavily criticized a delay in the transfer of medicines from state reserves to pharmacies, which were instructed to be open 24-hours-a-day over the weekend. It said Kim issued an order to immediately mobilize the party’s Central Military Commission to help stabilize the supply of medicine in Pyongyang, including dispatching the “powerful forces of the People’s Army.” Kim also called for “vigilance in the acute anti-epidemic war,” reprimanding the Cabinet and public officials for their “irresponsible work attitude and executing ability.” North Korea raised its COVID-19 readiness to a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system” last Thursday when for the first time in the pandemic, it recognized the presence of the “malicious virus” within its borders. Analysis of samples taken from a group of fever-ridden people in Pyongyang produced one case of the coronavirus subvariant BA.2, also known as the “stealth” omicron variant because it contains genetic mutations making it hard to discern from delta variant, health experts say. KCNA said, during an on-site inspection of local pharmacies later Sunday, Kim found them to be in sub-standard condition, lacking storage space other than the display cases and noting some pharmacists not wearing white gowns. KCTV over the weekend offered self-treatment advice such as keeping mouths clean by frequently rinsing with saltwater. Its main broadsheet, Rodong Sinmun, also encouraged people to eat fruits rich in vitamin C and to avoid grilled and oily foods that are harder to digest. Calling SOS China has sent an advance medical team into North Korea, according to a South Korean broadcaster YTN, in what would be the first dispatch of people across the China-North Korea border, mostly sealed since February 2020 due to the global outbreak of COVID-19. The team of around 10 people had been dispatched over the weekend after Pyongyang reached out for quarantine assistance, the YTN reported Monday citing unnamed sources in Beijing. Yonhap News also reported Sunday that the North had requested COVID-19 supplies and equipment from Beijing, though specifics were unknown. North Korea leader Kim Jong Un last Saturday had called on his officials to draw lessons from the experience of advanced countries, singling out China as having attained an “abundance” of quarantine achievements. New South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in his first parliamentary address Monday reiterated his government’s willingness to send humanitarian assistance in the form of vaccines, medical supplies and medical personnel to North Korea. Should North Korea reach out for help, Seoul would not hold back on needed support, he said. A spokesperson at Seoul’s Unification Ministry, soon after the address, told reporters the agency would “swiftly” contact North Korea to determine what the reclusive state needs to fight the rapidly growing transmission of what is suspected to be COVID-19. He added the ministry conducted assessments over the weekend on what supplies are available and when they would be ready to be sent. The U.S. State Department said it had no plans to send direct medical assistance to North Korea, but that it would support a decision by COVAX — a global vaccine-sharing program led by the U.N. and other health organizations with the aim of donating COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries — to allocate doses to Pyongyang. It urged North Korea to work with the international community to promptly vaccinate its estimated 26 million people.

Four Killed, Four Wounded in Brazil Shooting

about 18 hours ago

Gunmen in Brazil opened fire outside a bar in the northern city of Altamira, killing four people and wounding four others, officials said Sunday. Security camera footage from the shooting late Saturday showed a crowd of patrons sitting at tables outside the bar when two attackers with handguns approached and shot multiple people, then ran away. Authorities are investigating the attack as a “possible conflict between criminal factions,” Para state Governor Helder Barbalho said in a statement. There have been at least 12 murders in Altamira in less than two weeks, including the latest shootings, according to local media reports. Authorities said they were investigating whether the crimes were related. Barbalho, who traveled to the city of 117,000 people Sunday, said he had launched a 50-officer task force to investigate. Para state has been the scene of bloody turf wars in the past between rival drug gangs and mafia-like militia groups.

Medal of Honor Monday: Navy Hospital Corpsman Donald Ballard > U.S. Department of Defense > Story

by Katie Lange, about 21 hours ago

Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Donald Everett Ballard was trained to keep Marines alive during the Vietnam War — even at the expense of his own life. His heroic actions showed the lengths he was willing to go to perform his duties and earned him the Medal of Honor. 

Training Ghana's health workers to fight COVID-19

by ShareAmerica, about 21 hours ago

A U.S. Agency for International Development program trains health workers to vaccinate their communities against COVID-19.

U.S. supports countries amid Putin's food crisis

by Leigh Hartman, about 21 hours ago

The U.S. is providing hundreds of millions of dollars to help people in Africa facing food shortages worsened by Putin's war against Ukraine.

Mali Withdraws From Regional Anti-jihadist Force 

about 21 hours ago

Mali said Sunday it was withdrawing from a west African force fighting jihadists to protest its being rejected as head of the G5 regional group, which also includes Mauritania, Chad, Burkina and Niger.  "The government of Mali is deciding to withdraw from all the organs and bodies of the G5 Sahel, including the joint force" fighting the jihadists, it said in a statement.  The G5 Sahel was created in 2014 and its anti-jihadist force launched in 2017.  A conference of heads of state of the G5 Sahel scheduled for February 2022 in Bamako had been due to mark "the start of the Malian presidency of the G5."  But nearly four months after the mandate indicated this meeting "has still not taken place," the statement said.  Bamako "firmly rejects the argument of a G5 member state which advances the internal national political situation to reject Mali's exercising the G5 Sahel presidency," the statement said, without naming the country.  The Mali government said "the opposition of some G5 Sahel member states to Mali's presidency is linked to maneuvers by a state outside the region aiming desperately to isolate Mali," without naming that country.  Mali has been since January 9 the target of a series of economic and diplomatic sanctions from west African states to punish the military junta's bid to stay in power for several more years, following coups in August 2020 and May 2021.  The junta has opted for a two-year transition while the Economic Community of West African States has urged Bamako to organize elections in 16 months maximum.   Beyond Mali and Burkina, the G5 Sahel, composed of around 5,000 troops, includes Mauritania, Chad and Niger.  The military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso are undermining the regional force's opertional capacity, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to Security Council on May 11.  "I am deeply concerned by the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Sahel, as well as by the potentially debilitating effect the uncertain political situation in Mali, Burkina Faso and beyond will have on efforts to further operationalize the G5-Sahel Joint Force," Guterres' report said. 

Somali Parliament Reelects Former President to Top Job

about 23 hours ago

Somalia’s parliament has reelected former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud following marathon voting in Mogadishu on Sunday. The voting took place in the heavily guarded Mogadishu airport with African Union forces securing the tent inside a hangar, where the secret balloting took place. In a joint session of the two houses of the parliament, the Upper House and Lower House, 327 lawmakers cast ballots for 36 presidential candidates in three rounds of voting. Outgoing President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo and his immediate predecessor, Mohamud, competed in the final round of voting, needing a simple majority to win. It was a rematch of the 2017 election when Farmaajo beat Mohamud to become president. “Out of 327 parliamentarians who voted the final round, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud got 214 (votes), while President Farmaajo got 110, three votes spoiled,” Speaker Adan Mohamed Nur said. “He is the legitimate president from this hour.” Farmaajo congratulated Mohamud during a live broadcast on national television. “Thanks to Allah for allowing us to complete our election tonight. I thank those who voted for me and those who voted against me,” Farmaajo said. “I want to welcome my brother, the new president. Congratulations.” Mohamud was immediately sworn in. In a brief speech, Mohamud thanked Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble for leading the election process. Mohamud said he would not be looking to go against Farmaajo supporters. “There will be no revenge,” he said. “If we have differences, we will use the country’s laws to settle it.” Voting The voting went into the third round after no candidate won the two-thirds (220) majority required for a candidate to win outright in the first and second rounds. In the first round, Mohamud finished third, with 52 votes. But he finished on top in the second round with 110 votes. Farmaajo finished second in the first round with 59 votes, and 83 in the second round. The president of Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, Said Abdullahi Dani, and former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire finished third and fourth in the race, respectively. Mohamud was president from September 2012 to February 2017. In his previous administration, he led with a “six pillar policy” plan topped by stability and the rule of law, peace-building, reconciliation, economic recovery and national unity. When he left power in February 2017, the main challenge to Somalia’s stability was the insurgent group al-Shabab. His successor failed to remove the al-Shabab threat, too. Earlier this month, the militant group attacked an Africa Union military base in the town of El-Baraf, killing at least 30 Burundian peacekeepers. Mohamud was born in the town of Jalalaqsi in the Hiran region in 1955. He graduated from Somali National University with a bachelor's degree in technology and received a master’s in technical education from Barkatullah University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the same school in 2015. In 1999, he cofounded the Somali Institute of Management and Administration Development (SIMAD) in Mogadishu, which later became one of the biggest universities in Mogadishu. In 2008, Mohamud was appointed as the CEO of Telecom Somalia. In 2011, he entered politics and established the independent Peace and Development Party (PDP), which elected him as the party's chair. In August 2012, Mohamud was selected as a member of parliament. The following month he was elected president of Somalia. Marathon election process Mohamud was elected by an indirect election as the country’s leaders could not agree on an election model. On February 20, 2020, Farmaajo signed a landmark election law that allowed popular voting. But it immediately hit a snag because the government did not control the entire country. Key Somali regional leaders and opposition politicians resisted the initiative, accusing Farmaajo of concentrating power at the center of the country and weakening the role of other regions. In June 2020, National Independent Election Commission (NIEC) chair Halima Ismail Ibrahim ruled out holding direct elections by Nov. 27, 2020, as scheduled, the date the parliament’s mandate expired. Halima gave the parliament two options: An electionbased on biometric registration that she proposed to take place in August 2021; and a manual-based registration that could have been held in March 2021. She cited that buying voting machines and election equipment, securing election centers and enacting a mass awareness campaign would take months to complete. That sparked a long political tussle that forced a return to the indirect election where clans and regional leaders played a role in who is elected to parliament. On Sept. 17, 2020, the sides agreed that elections would take place in two towns in each of the federal member states, and in Mogadishu. They also agreed that 101 electoral delegates would elect each lawmaker. The September 17 agreement faced a setback on April 12, 2021, when the Somali parliament controversially extended the mandate of the parliament and the president by two years. This led to violence in Mogadishu and condemnations by the international community. On May 1, the Somali lawmakers retreated from the controversial term extension plan and accepted a return to the Sept. 17 agreement. On that same day, Farmaajo handed over the security and management of the election process to Prime Minister Roble. On July 29, 2021, the first MP was elected. On May 6, 2022, the last MP was elected. Allegations of voter irregularities overshadowed the election process. The election results of at least four seats were nullified amid fraud concerns, two were later approved, one was recontested and one remains nullified. Roble himself admitted the election was not taking place as scheduled and fired several members of the election disputes resolution team. Challenges The new president faces the same challenges that has impeded the country’s progress. In addition to ongoing droughts and al-Shabab, the country’s federal system is not functioning properly. Ibrahim, the chair of the National Independent Electoral Committee, says key among the challenges is settling the constitution. “We have a federal system but it’s incomplete, the constitutional is incomplete,” she said. She also said the new president needs to work on making sure the Somali people directly elect the next president. She said the election model the country is going to adopt must be stated in the constitution. The other key challenge is tackling the country’s security problems. Al-Shabab has been fighting the Somali government for nearly 15 years. Jihan Abdullahi Hassan, former director of the Somali Ministry of Defense, said the new president must restore discipline among the military. “The army has mingled in politics,” she said. “The first task is to separate the army from the politics.” Jihan said the country needs a clear national security policy, better-equipped army and a unified front against al-Shabab. “Al-Shabab can be defeated,” she said. “The important thing is to have a well-defined overall national security policy between the federal government and the federal member states.”

Deaths Toll Climbs as North Korea Scrambles to Stock Medicine

about 24 hours ago

North Korea reported 390,000 new fever cases detected Sunday, as an additional eight deaths brought the toll of known deaths to 50, according to state media. Official KCNA said Monday that another emergency meeting of the Workers’ Party political bureau was held the previous day, where leader Kim Jong Un heavily criticized a delay in the transfer of medicines from state reserves to pharmacies, which were instructed to be open 24-hours-a-day over the weekend. It said Kim issued an order to mobilize the People’s Army resources, including that of its medical personnel, to support the drive to stock pharmacies in the capital, Pyongyang. Kim called for “vigilance in the acute anti-epidemic war,” reprimanding the Cabinet and public officials for their “irresponsible work attitude and executing ability.” North Korea had raised its COVID-19 readiness to a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system” last Thursday when for the first time in the pandemic, it recognized the presence of the “malicious virus” within its borders. Analysis of samples taken from a group of fever-ridden people in Pyongyang produced one case of the coronavirus subvariant BA.2, also known as the “stealth” omicron variant. North Korea appears to be limited in its testing capacity as it has not confirmed additional COVID-19 test results since then, though it has issued daily reports of its understanding of how the “explosive” spread of the fever of unknown origin is growing. KCNA said, during on-site inspection of local pharmacies later Sunday, Kim found them to be in sub-quality condition, lacking storage space other than the display cases and some pharmacists not wearing white gowns. North Korea’s official television station over the weekend offered self-treatment advice such as keeping mouths clean by frequently rinsing with salt water. Its main broadsheet, Rodong Sinmun, also encouraged people to take fruits rich in vitamin C and to avoid grilled and oily foods that are harder to digest.

Crisis-Hit Sri Lanka Lifts Curfew for Buddhist Festival

1 day ago

Sri Lankan authorities lifted a nationwide curfew on Sunday for an important Buddhist festival, but celebrations were muted as the island nation's new premier struggled to find his footing and tackle a worsening economic crisis. A countrywide stay-home order has been in place for most of the week after mob violence left nine dead and over 225 wounded, sparked by attacks on peaceful demonstrators by government loyalists. Protesters across the Buddhist-majority nation have for weeks demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over Sri Lanka's worst-ever economic crisis. Shortages of food, fuel and medicines, along with record inflation and lengthy blackouts, have brought severe hardships to the country's 22 million people. Sunday marks Vesak, the most important religious event on Sri Lanka's calendar, which celebrates Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. The government has declared a two-day holiday and announced it was lifting the curfew for the day without saying when or whether it would be reimposed. But the ongoing crisis prompted the government to cancel its plans to celebrate the festival, which had been scheduled at a temple in the island's south. "Given the economic situation of the government and other constraints, we are not having this year's state festival at the Kuragala temple as planned," a Buddhist Affairs ministry official told AFP. The official said Buddhists were free to hold their own celebrations, including the mass meditation and Buddhist sermons traditionally organized during the festival. Worshippers usually set up soup kitchens, lanterns and "pandal" bamboo stages bearing large paintings depicting stories from Buddha's life. But Sri Lanka has been unable to properly stage Vesak for years, with the Easter Sunday attacks dampening celebrations in 2019 and the last two years affected by the coronavirus pandemic. "Everybody knows that it is Lord Buddha's special day today," said Chamila Perera, a housewife in the capital Colombo. "We are hoping good things will happen," she told AFP. "But I'm feeling very sad." Newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is struggling to form a unity government ahead of Tuesday's parliamentary session, the first since he took office. Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has already formally rejected an overture to join the new administration. "The demand from the streets is that President Rajapaksa should step down," Premadasa said. "We will not join any government with him in it." But he added that his party would not block legitimate "solutions to the economic problems" in parliament. Rajapaksa on Saturday appointed four new ministers, all from his own Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, but the all-important finance ministry remains vacant. Official sources said the new prime minister could take the finance portfolio to spearhead ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for an urgent bailout. Wickremesinghe, a veteran politician who was sworn in as prime minister for a sixth time on Thursday, has already met with diplomats from Britain, the United States, Japan, China and India to seek financial aid. He said last week that shortages will get worse in the coming weeks, with reserves of usable foreign exchange needed to import essential goods falling below $50 million. His appointment has so far failed to quell public anger at the government for bringing Sri Lanka to the brink of economic collapse.  "All these people are hand-in-glove," Fareena, a resident of the capital Colombo, said of the new premier.  "When one goes, they bring another one of their guys in," she told AFP. "But to us, they are all the same." Long queues stretched outside the few fuel stations that were still open on Sunday as motorists waited for rationed petrol.  Heavily armed troops are patrolling the streets with a state of emergency still in effect.

Authorities: One Killed, 5 Hurt in California Church Shooting

1 day ago

One person was killed and four others were critically wounded in a shooting Sunday at a Southern California church, authorities said. Deputies detained one person and recovered a weapon following the shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church in the city of Laguna Woods, the Orange County Sheriff's Department said on Twitter. A fifth injured person suffered minor injuries, officials said. All the victims were adults. Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were responding to the scene. Laguna Woods was built as a senior living community and later became a city. More than 80% of residents in the city of 18,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65. Gov. Gavin Newsom's office said on Twitter that he was closely monitoring the situation. "No one should have to fear going to their place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event," the tweet said. The incident occurred in an area with a cluster of houses of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches and a Jewish synagogue. The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

Persistent Drought in Ethiopia Result of Climate Change, Experts Say

1 day ago

Drought is not new to the Horn of Africa, but experts say the record one killing crops and cattle across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia has underscored the increasing frequency of drought due to climate change. In Ethiopia, the U.N.'s World Food Program is not just feeding those affected but also working to help drought-proof communities for the longer term. Hawo Abdi Wole has lived through many droughts in her 70 years of life. But until now, she said she had never seen four consecutive rainy seasons fail. Wole said she has seen a big difference. In early years, she said, people used to see more rains and animals produced more milk. There is a big, big difference now. The World Food Program is helping her village not only survive the crisis but rebuild for the long term. The group is digging meter-wide, semi-circular holes in the barren soil to capture runoff water when rains return so that grass can grow more effectively and people feed their surviving livestock. Forward-looking interventions are desperately needed. Scientists say climate change is the culprit for these more frequent, severe conditions. “The climate in this region is driven by what is happening in the neighboring ocean,” said Abubakr Salih Babiker, who is with World Meteorological Organization in Ethiopia. “There are studies that indicated that this is the world's fastest warming part of the tropical ocean system. So, it is warming rapidly during the past 100 years. And this warming, as I was... it is associated with the dryness of the March-June season.” It also results in flooding when the rain does return. These events aren’t just examples of climate change, but inequality, said Habtamu Adam, a climate policy expert in Addis Ababa. “When you compare from the emission level from our contribution to the climate change, it is very incomparable because most of the emissions are emitted from developed countries,” he said. Yet developing countries like Ethiopia don’t have the funds to fight the effects. The World Meteorological Organization estimates that sub-Saharan Africa will need up to $50 billion annually to adapt to climate change. Without it, the number of people displaced and in need of aid will only continue to rise, said Ali Hussein, who is with the World Food Program in the Somali region. “We need to build the community resistance to these shocks and in that line, we want to put more emphasis on these regreening activities, such as half-moons, to regenerate this dry desert area to become a green land in the future, which can be more useful to both communities and as well as livestock," he said. These projects around the Somali region are showing success and could be replicated to help more people. Ibrahim Kurbad Farah is an elder of a village that saw its land restored with the construction of a channel that is effectively diverting streams and rainwater. He said they have experienced numerous advantages. They’re now able to farm and use the grass for livestock, as well as thatches for their houses. He said they also use the water for drinking, especially for the livestock. While adaptation is crucial to communities’ health and survival, climate scientists warn reducing emissions remains a priority in preventing even worse conditions in the future.

Buddhist Chaplains on Rise in US, Offering Broad Appeal

1 day ago

Wedged into a recliner in the corner of her assisted living apartment in Portland, Skylar Freimann, who has a terminal heart condition and pulmonary illness, anxiously eyed her newly arrived hospital bed on a recent day and worried over how she would maintain independence as she further loses mobility. There to guide her along the journey was the Rev. Jo Laurence, a hospice and palliative care chaplain. But rather than invoking God or a Christian prayer, she talked of meditation, chanting and other Eastern spiritual traditions: "The body can weigh us down sometimes," she counseled. "Where is the divine or the sacred in your decline?" An ordained Sufi minister and practicing Zen Buddhist who brings years of meditation practice and scriptural training to support end-of-life patients, Laurence is part of a burgeoning generation of Buddhist chaplains who are increasingly common in hospitals, hospices and prisons, where the need for their services rose dramatically during the pandemic. In a profession long dominated in the U.S. by Christian clergy, Buddhists are leading an ever more diverse field that includes Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan and even secular humanist chaplains. Buddhist chaplains say they're uniquely positioned for the times due to their ability to appeal to a broad cultural and religious spectrum, including the growing number of Americans — roughly one-third — who identify as nonreligious. In response, study and training opportunities have been established or expanded in recent years. They include the Buddhist Ministry Initiative at Harvard Divinity School and the Buddhism track at Union Theological Seminary, an ecumenical Christian liberal seminary in New York City. Colorado's Naropa University, a Buddhist-inspired liberal arts college, recently launched a low-residency hybrid degree chaplaincy program. Nonaccredited certifications such as those offered by the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care or the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, are also popular. "The programs keep expanding, so it seems clear that there's a growing demand from students. And the students appear to be finding jobs after graduation," said Monica Sanford, assistant dean for Multireligious Ministry at Harvard Divinity School and an ordained Buddhist minister. In the past, Buddhist chaplains were often hired by the likes of hospitals and police departments specifically to minister to Asian immigrant communities. During World War II, they served Japanese American soldiers in the military. Today, however, they are more mainstream. In a first-of-its-kind report published this month, Sanford and a colleague identified 425 chaplains in the United States, Canada and Mexico representing all major branches of Buddhism, though the researchers say there are likely many more. More than 40% work in health care, the Mapping Buddhist Chaplains in North America report found, while others serve in schools, in prisons or as self-employed counselors. Two-thirds of respondents reported holding a Master of Divinity, another graduate degree or a chaplaincy certificate. Most of those working as staff chaplains also completed clinical pastoral education internships and residencies in health care and other settings. Maitripa College, a Tibetan Buddhist college also in Portland, has seen increased interest in its Master of Divinity track since its launch 10 years ago, said Leigh Miller, director of academic and public programs. It appeals to a broad range, from older Buddhists with 20 years of practice to new college graduates who just started meditating, from spiritual seekers to people with multiple religious belongings. Hospitals and other institutions are eager to hire Buddhist chaplains, Miller said, in part to boost staff diversity and also because they are adept at relating to others using inclusive, neutral language. "Buddhist chaplains are in the habit of speaking in more universal terms, focusing on compassion, being grounded, feeling at peace," she said. "A lot of Christian chaplains fall back on God language, leading prayers or reading Bible scriptures." Meanwhile, training in mindfulness and meditation, as well as beliefs regarding the nature of self, reality and the impermanence of suffering, give Buddhists unique tools to confront pain and death. "The fruit of those hours on the (meditation) cushion really shows up in the ability to be present, to drop one's own personal agenda and to have a kind of awareness of self and other that allows for an interdependent relationship to arise," Miller said. Buddhist chaplaincy also faces challenges, including how to become more accessible to Buddhists of color. The Mapping Buddhist Chaplains in North America report found that most professional Buddhist chaplains today are white and have a Christian family background, even though nearly two-thirds of the faith's followers in the U.S. are Asian American, according to the Pew Research Center. Traditional Buddhist communities tend to be small and run by volunteers, so they often lack the resources to offer endorsements to chaplains — a necessary step for board certification, which is often required for employment. And non-Christian chaplains can struggle with feelings of isolation and a need to code-switch in Christian-founded health care institutions where crosses hang on walls, prayers are offered at staff meetings and Jesus and the Bible are regularly invoked. Providence Health & Services, a Catholic nonprofit based in Washington state that runs hospitals in seven Western states, is one Christian health care system seeking to change that. Mark Thomas, a chief mission officer in Oregon, said the system employs 10 Buddhist chaplains not despite but precisely because of its Catholic identity. The aim is to ensure patients get good spiritual care however it best suits them. "Many patients resonate with some aspect or even just a perception of Buddhism," said Thomas, citing practices like meditation and breathing that can help them cope with suffering. "These tools have been enormously valuable." Laurence, the hospice chaplain at Portland's Providence Home and Community Services, grew up in London and felt called to Buddhism after witnessing poverty, violence and racism as a caregiver in Mississippi. She said that as more people become unchurched, many patients don't have a language for their spirituality, or it's tied up with religious trauma. Laurence supports them in whatever way they need, be it through Christian prayer, the comfort of a cool washcloth on a forehead or a Buddhist-inspired blessing. "For some people the language of Buddhism is a respite," she said. "It doesn't have the baggage, and it feels so soothing to them." Freimann, her patient, said she has practiced Eastern spiritual traditions and therefore was delighted to receive Laurence. "I don't think of God the way traditionally religious people do," Freimann told her during the visit. "What a joy you're here. … It would be so much harder to talk with a Christian chaplain."

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