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Jill Biden not shy about her ‘Philly girl’ sports fandom

WASHINGTON – Jill Biden won’t let even a White House gala get between her and the Philadelphia Eagles.

After a late night entertaining governors with President Joe Biden at a black-tie dinner on Saturday, the first lady was heading for the Super Bowl in Arizona on Sunday with hopes of watching “the Birds” defeat the Kansas City Chiefs and claim the NFL title.

First ladies have been involved with sports in a variety of ways over the years, from throwing out the first pitch at baseball games to representing the United States at the Olympics. But Jill Biden’s unabashed public expressions of support for Philadelphia’s teams — she grew up in suburban Willow Grove — are a rare kind of devotion.

“The first lady is a proud Philly girl and devoted sports fan, and is excited to cheer on her hometown team for the Super Bowl,” said her spokesperson, Vanessa Valdivia.

At a time when national politicians often avoid taking sides in sports contests, Jill Biden, a community college professor, wears her Eagles and Phillies garb in public and tweets photos of herself watching games in the private cabin on a government plane.

She and her grandson, Hunter, were at the stadium in Philadelphia on Jan. 29 when the Eagles won the NFC championship. The 16-year-old will join her again on Sunday.

“I’m going. I’ll wave to you at the game,” the first lady was overheard telling two girls about the Super Bowl when she visited California last weekend.

No sitting president has attended a Super Bowl, mainly because of the strict security requirements authorities would need to impose upon the tens of thousands of fans. President Biden will be at the White House on Sunday.

Boston University communications professor Tammy Vigil said first ladies usually aren’t seen as overt sports fans because many of them have not been, even though they often participate in the ceremonial aspects of some sports. Timing could also be a factor for Jill Biden, she said.

“Her teams happen to be very successful at the time she occupies the White House,” Vigil, author of ”Melanie and Michelle,” a book about first ladies, said in an email.

Biden also uses her interest in sports to highlight one of the causes she promotes as first lady: cancer awareness. She has appeared at Eagles and Phillies home games, including the World Series, in recent months to cheer patients and boost league efforts at promoting early detection.

There is a long history of first ladies and their involvement with sports, especially baseball, according to the National First Ladies’ Library. And for some, their interest continued, or even deepened, after they left the White House.

Grace Coolidge enjoyed baseball more than President Calvin Coolidge did. “He did not share my enthusiasm for baseball,” she once said. Within months of becoming first lady, she appeared at a game for the first time, bringing the president to a World Series game between the New York Giants and Washington Senators in 1924.

After leaving the White House, Grace Coolidge became a regular at Boston’s Fenway Park, rooting for the Red Sox from a reserved seat just above their dugout.

Bess Truman joined President Harry Truman for opening day of Washington Senators’ games, but also went alone or with her daughter and friends. When the Trumans returned to Missouri after his presidency, she split her loyalties between the Kansas City Athletics (and later, the Kansas City Royals) and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pat Nixon was the first first lady to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for a major league team, doing so at the second game of the 1971 World Series in Baltimore. For a time, she would watch one football game during the weekend.

“However at one time, I followed teams and then, of course, I wouldn’t miss a game,” Nixon said in a 1971 television interview.

Nancy Reagan threw out the first pitch before the first game of the 1988 World Series, using the opportunity to promote one of her causes, the “Just Say No” anti-drug program.

Barbara Bush became the first first lady to throw the ceremonial pitch for a Texas Rangers game in May 1989. She later would attend Rangers games after her son, future President George W. Bush, became a managing general partner of the team.

Hillary Clinton tossed the ceremonial first pitch for the Chicago Cubs, her hometown team, at Wrigley Field in April 1994. But years later, when she ran for a Senate seat from New York, she split her loyalties and adopted the Yankees.

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, then second lady of the United States, made a joint appearance at the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium for their Joining Forces military initiative. In 2010, Mrs. Obama threw the first pitch at an Orioles game in Baltimore.

While President Biden has opened the White House to celebrate Olympians and championship sports teams, including ones that turned down invitations from his predecessor, Biden has not yet attended a sporting event, including the annual Army-Navy football game.

That leaves his wife to assume the role of White House sports ambassador. She led the U.S. delegation to the delayed Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, and she and Doug Emhoff, the vice president’s husband, sipped beer in the stands at Minute Maid Park after they participated in a COVID-19 vaccination clinic sponsored by the Houston Astros.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he’s happy that so many Philadelphia fans, including the first lady, will fill State Farm Stadium in Arizona with Eagles chants on Sunday.

“We’re very proud that she’s part of our diverse, passionate Eagles fan base,” Kenney said in a statement.

President Biden says he’s a Philadelphia sports fan, too, out of necessity, and often jokes that “I’d be sleeping alone” otherwise.

But in a 2011 interview with a Wisconsin radio station when he was vice president, Biden swore allegiance to the Green Bay Packers.

Biden told WTMJ that the Norbertines, the order of priests at the Catholic school he attended in Claymont, Delaware, had their abbey house in De Pere, Wisconsin. On Sundays when the Packers won, the headmaster, Father Justin E. Diny, would announce that last period had been canceled.

“He made every one of us Packers fans, so I have a sentimental place,” Biden said. “Besides, I’m fearful I’ll go to hell if I don’t root for the Packers. Father Diny may come back. I can’t go against Father Diny. He’ll come out of his grave if he knew I was rooting for anybody else.”


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Pope in Hungary meets with Ukrainian refugees, Russian envoy

Pope Francis plunged into both sides of Russia’s war with Ukraine on Saturday, greeting some of the 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled across the border to Hungary during a public prayer service and then meeting privately with an envoy of the Russian Orthodox Church that has strongly supported the war.

Francis maintained the Vatican’s tradition of diplomatic neutrality during his second day in Budapest, where he’s on a weekend visit to minister to Hungary’s Catholic faithful.

Starting the day, he thanked Hungarians for welcoming Ukrainian refugees and urged them to help anyone in need. He called for a culture of charity in a country where the prime minister has justified firm anti-immigration policies with fears that migration threatens Europe’s Christian culture.

Speaking in the white-brick St. Elizabeth’s church, named for a princess who renounced her wealth to care for the poor, Francis recalled that the Gospel instructs Christians to show love and compassion to all, especially those experiencing poverty and “even those who are not believers.”

“The love that Jesus gives us and commands us to practice can help to uproot the evils of indifference and selfishness from society, from our cities and the places where we live — indifference is a plague —- and to rekindle hope for a new, more just and fraternal world, where all can feel at home,” he said.

Hungary’s nationalist government has implemented firm anti-immigration policies and refused to accept many asylum-seekers trying to enter the country through its southern border, leading to prolonged legal disputes with the European Union.

The conservative populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has said that migration threatens to replace Europe’s Christian culture. Orbán, who has held office since 2010, has hinged multiple election campaigns on the threats he alleges that migrants and refugees pose to Hungarians.

While Orbán’s government has consistently rejected asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa, around 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing war in their country found open doors. Around 35,000 of the refugees remain in Hungary and have registered for temporary protection there, according to the U.N.

One who has chosen to stay was Olesia Misiats, a nurse who worked in a Kyiv COVID-19 hospital when she fled with her mother and two daughters on Feb. 24, 2022 — the day Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

First she went to the Netherlands, but high costs compelled her to move to Hungary, where she said she has found an apartment and given birth to her third daughter, Mila, who was in the pews Saturday with her mother and sister.

“Here it’s safe,” Misiats said of her new life. She said that she hopes to return to Kyiv one day, but for now she and her children are adapting. “I want to go back home. There it’s my life — it was my life,” she said. “But the war changed my life.”

Immediately after greeting and encouraging the refugees, Francis visited the Greek Catholic church next door, which has been providing aid to refugees. And then he met with the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative in Hungary, Metropolitan Hilarion, who developed close relations with the Vatican during his years as the Russian church’s foreign minister. The Vatican said the 20-minute meeting at the Holy See’s embassy in Budapest was “cordial.”

The Russian church’s strong support for the Kremlin’s war has rankled the Vatican and prevented a second papal meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Francis and Kirill had a 2016 encounter in Cuba that marked the first between a pope and the head of the Russian church. They had planned a second one in June, but the meeting has been indefinitely postponed over Kirill’s support for the war.

In a statement, Hilarion’s office said that he briefed Francis on the social and educational activities of the Russian church in Hungary and its relations with the Catholic Church here. He said that he gave the pope an Italian translation of a six-volume opus on the life of Christ.

Francis’ visit to Hungary, his second in as many years, is bringing him as close as he’s come to the front lines of the war. Upon arriving in Budapest on Friday, he denounced the “adolescent belligerence” that had brought war back to European soil and demanded the EU recover its values of peaceful unity to end

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As battle for Sudan continues, civilian deaths top 400

– Gunfire and heavy artillery fire persisted Saturday in parts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, residents said, despite the extension of a cease-fire between the country’s two top generals, whose battle for power has killed hundreds and sent thousands fleeing for their lives.

With ordinary Sudanese caught in the crossfire, the civilian death toll jumped Saturday to 411 people, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, which monitors casualties. In some areas in and around the capital, residents reported that shops were reopening and normalcy gradually returning as the scale of fighting dwindled after the shaky truce. But in other areas, terrified residents reported explosions thundering around them and fighters ransacking houses.

Now in its third week, the fighting has wounded 2,023 civilians, the syndicate added, although the true toll is expected to be much higher. The Sudanese Health Ministry put the overall death toll, including fighters, at 528, with 4,500 wounded. In the city of Genena, the provincial capital of war-ravaged West Darfur, intensified violence has killed 89 people, the Doctors’ Syndicate said.

Khartoum, a city of some 5 million people, has been transformed into a front line in the grinding conflict between Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, the commander of Sudan’s military, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces. The outbreak of violence has dashed once-euphoric hopes for a democratic transition in Sudan after a popular uprising helped oust former dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Foreign countries continued to evacuate their citizens while hundreds of thousands of Sudanese fled across borders. The first convoy organized by the United States to evacuate hundreds of American citizens from the conflict reached the coastal city of Port Sudan Saturday after a dangerous overland journey escorted by armed drones.

Britain meanwhile was ending its evacuation flights Saturday, after demand for spots on the planes declined. The United Arab Emirates announced Saturday it had started evacuating its own citizens along with nationals of 16 other countries.

Over 50,000 Sudanese refugees — mostly women and children — have crossed over to Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the United Nations said, raising fears of regional instability. Ethnic fighting and turmoil has scarred South Sudan and the Central African Republic for years while a 2021 coup has derailed Chad’s own democratic transition.

Those who escape the fighting in Khartoum face more dangers on their way to safety. The route to Port Sudan, where ships evacuate people via the Red Sea, has proven long, exhausting and risky. Hatim el-Madani, a former journalist, said that paramilitary fighters were stopping refugees at roadblocks outside Khartoum, demanding they hand over their phones and valuables.

“There’s an outlaw, bandit-like nature to the RSF,” he said, referring to Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces. “They don’t have a supply line in place. That could get worse in the coming days.”

Airlifts from the country amid the chaotic fighting also posed challenges, with a Turkish evacuation plane even hit by gunfire outside Khartoum on Friday.

On Saturday — despite a cease-fire extended under heavy international pressure early Friday — clashes continued around the presidential palace, headquarters of the state broadcaster and a military base in Khartoum, residents said. The battles sent thick columns of black smoke billowing over the city skyline.

But in other areas, residents reported signs that the cease-fire had taken hold.

“We are not hearing the bombs as we did before, so we’re hoping that this means they will go back to a political process,” said Osman Mirgany, a columnist and editor of the daily al-Tayar, who assessed it was safe enough on Friday to return home to Khartoum after seeking refuge in a far-flung village.

But Khartoum residents are forced to live side by side with armed fighters. Many RSF militants have moved into civilian homes and taken over stores and hospitals in the capital. The paramilitary group even transformed Mirgany’s newsroom into a makeshift base, he said. Residents also must cope without sufficient electricity and running water, among other basic supplies.

“For the past 14 days we’ve suffered from a lack of everything,” Mirgany said.

Residents in the city of Omdurman, west of Khartoum, have been waiting at least three days to get fuel — complicating their escape plans.

The U.N. relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that U.N. offices in Khartoum, as well as the cities of Genena and Nyala in Darfur had been attacked and looted. Genena’s main hospital was also leveled in the fighting, Sudan’s health ministry said.

“This is unacceptable — and prohibited under international law,” Griffiths said.

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Will you marry me?’ Bulgarian woman contacts News 6 to expose international romance scheme

A 52-year-old Bulgarian woman currently working in Ireland is the latest target of international imposters who use stolen photos of a handsome Carnival Cruise Line officer in an online dating scheme that steals victims’ money.

Alessandro Cinquini, 29, who is known on dating sites as “Alex the Officer,” first contacted News 6 in March 2022 when he discovered his photographs were being used to fool women from Florida to India.

Vanya Dimova contacted News 6 after seeing our reports about Cinquini on the web.

She said an Alex imposter sent her photos and videos of lavish gifts that included a shimmering engagement ring.

Alessandro Cinquini has gone public to warn women across the globe that imposters have stolen his photographs from social media platforms to create “catfish” style profiles that offer love but target money.

News 6 sent 15 questions to her in advance so Dimova could translate and prepare responses during a Zoom interview.

She said she met the Alex imposter on Instagram back on March 26. According to Dimova, the conversation went from casual to romantic very quickly.

“After two days, he told me he was in love with me,” Danya told News 6. “Every day, he tell me he want to buy a house in Bulgaria and live together.”

Cinquini told News 6 the imposters have never stopped using his photos and he assured us he never contacted Dimova.

They have my old pictures from my old life,” Cinquini said. “Most of those pictures aren’t on my Instagram anymore. I canceled them years ago.”

He told News 6 he currently works as a fleet operation center watch officer for Carnival Cruise Line.

Danya sent News 6 a voice message from a man claiming to be Alex.

“I love you, I love you,” the man said.

The voice sounded nothing like Cinquini

Danya said that voice recording was the only evidence she has. She never met the imposter face-to-face or spoke to him on FaceTime or Zoom.

Danya said she became suspicious when the imposter asked her to pay the shipping charges for her gifts. He sent her a Bank of America receipt to prove his account had been frozen.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams in the U.S alone netted an estimated $1.3 billion last year, impacting 70,000 men and women.

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