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Pope Francis has delivered his second “Urbi et Orbi” – to the city and the world – Christmas message, highlighting the plight of victims of conflict in Syria and Iraq.

The pontiff has denounced the “brutal persecution” of religious and ethnic minorities, in his traditional Christmas Day address.

“Too many people are being held hostage or massacred” in Nigeria, he added.

Pope Francis also urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and condemned Taliban attacks in Pakistan.


Tens of thousands of people turned out on St Peter’s Square to hear Pope Francis deliver his annual message.

He said Christians in Iraq and Syria had endured conflict for too long, and “together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution”.

Photo AP

Photo AP

“May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world,” the Pope said.

In his Christmas Day address, Pope Francis also asked for peace in Ukraine, Nigeria, in Libya, South Sudan and other parts of Africa.

He called for comfort for the families of the 132 children killed in a Taliban attack in Pakistan last week – and for the victims of the Ebola epidemic.

On Christmas Eve Pope Francis made a surprise telephone call to refugees in a camp near Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.

“You are like Jesus on Christmas night. There was no room for him either,” Pope Francis told them.

Advances in Iraq by Islamic State (ISIS) militants have forced tens of thousands of Christians and people from other religious minorities to flee.

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In a pre-Christmas address to cardinals, Pope Francis has sharply criticized the Vatican bureaucracy, complaining of “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and “the terrorism of gossip”.

The pontiff said the Curia – the administrative pinnacle of the Roman Catholic Church – was suffering from 15 “ailments”, which he wanted cured in the New Year.

Pope Francis – the first Latin American pontiff – also criticized “those who look obsessively at their own image”.

He has demanded reform of the Curia.

There was silence at the end of the Pope’s speech.

Addressing the Curia on December 22, Pope Francis said some power-hungry clerics were guilty of “cold-bloodedly killing the reputation of their own colleagues and brothers”.Pope Francis Christmas speech on Curia

He compared the performance of the church’s civil servants to that of an orchestra playing “out of tune” because they fail to collaborate and have no team spirit.

Before his election in March 2013, Pope Francis encountered internal opposition to some of the reforms he wants to carry out.

He has set up a series of specialist bodies to fight corruption and poor management, appointing a team of advisers.

Pope Francis also launched a clean-up of the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR). The IOR has long had a poor reputation, after a succession of scandals.

He has also suggested that the Curia’s power – concentrated in Rome for centuries – could be diluted to some extent by giving Catholic bishops around the world a bigger say in Church doctrine.

Pope Francis himself did not work in the Curia before he was elected.

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Pope Francis has declined to meet the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama because of the “delicate situation” with China, the Vatican announces.

The Dalai Lama, who is visiting Rome, had requested a meeting.

A Vatican spokesman said that although the Pope held him “in very high regard”, the request had been declined “for obvious reasons”.

Correspondents say the Vatican does not want to jeopardize efforts to improve relations with China.

China describes the Dalai Lama as a separatist and reacts angrily when foreign dignitaries meet him.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after Chinese troops crushed an attempted uprising in Tibet.

He now advocates a “middle way” with China, seeking autonomy but not independence for Tibet.Pope Francis and Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

“Pope Francis obviously holds the Dalai Lama in very high regard but he will not be meeting any of the Nobel laureates,” a Vatican spokesman said.

He added that the pontiff would send a video message to the conference.

The Dalai Lama told Italian media that he had approached the Vatican regarding a meeting but had been told it could create inconveniences.

Analysts say the Vatican and China are at odds over control of the Catholic Church in China.

The Chinese Communist Party oversees an official community, known as the Patriotic Association and believed to number about 12 million people, but there is also a much larger underground Church that is loyal to the Pope.

A serious bone of contention between China and the Vatican is which side should have the final say in the appointment of bishops.

A Vatican official said the Pope’s decision was “not taken out of fear but to avoid any suffering by those who have already suffered”.

The last time the Dalai Lama was granted a papal audience was in 2006 when he met former Pope Benedict XVI.

The Dalai Lama is in Rome for a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize winners. It was initially to be held in South Africa but was relocated to Rome after South Africa refused the Dalai Lama a visa.

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Cardinal George Pell, the man responsible for the Vatican’s finances, says he has found millions of Euros “tucked away” off balance sheets.

Cardinal George Pell, who heads the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, said it meant the Holy See’s finances were better than expected.

He made the comments in the Catholic Herald, in an essay outlining his vision for the Vatican.

Pope Francis appointed Cardinal George Pell as part of his efforts to reform the Church and make it more transparent.

“It is important to point out that the Vatican is not broke,” Cardinal George Pell wrote.Cardinal George Pell Vatican finance

“Apart from the pension fund (…) the Holy See is paying its way, while possessing substantial assets and investments.

“We have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of Euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet,” he added.

There have been a number of scandals at the Vatican Bank in 2013 when allegations were made the bank had been used by money launderers.

Cardinal George Pell did not say any wrongdoing had been found but said Vatican departments long had “an almost free hand” with their finances.

Pope Francis’ reforms, he said, were “already past the point where it would be possible to return to the ‘bad old days'”.

They aimed to make Vatican finances “boringly successful”, he added.

At the time of Pope Francis’ election, Cardinal George Pell – who is Australian – had been vocal in his calls for financial reform.

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Pope Francis is due to arrive in Istanbul meet Muslim and Christian leaders of the city on the second day of his three-day visit to Turkey.

Istanbul, previously known Constantinople, was Byzantine’s capital until the Ottoman conquest in 1453.

Pope Francis will also visit a mosque and hold mass at a Catholic cathedral.

Yesterday the pontiff called for an interfaith dialogue to counter fanaticism and fundamentalism during a visit to the Turkish capital Ankara.

He also called for a renewed Middle East peace push, saying the region had “for too long been a theatre of fratricidal wars”.

Pope Francis’ trip is only the fourth visit by a pontiff to Turkey. Most of the country’s 80 million citizens are Muslims, and there are about 120,000 Christians.

The Pope will begin his visit to Istanbul with a visit to Hagia Sofia – for almost 1,000 years the most important Orthodox cathedral, then for nearly five centuries a mosque under the Ottomans, currently a museum.

He will then hold meetings with Muslim leaders at the Blue Mosque, one of the greatest masterpieces of Ottoman architecture.

Later in the day, Pope Francis will celebrate mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and then will meet Bartholomew I – the “first among equals” of the Orthodox Church.

Correspondents say Pope Francis and Bartholomew I have a strong personal relationship, and discussions are expected to focus on healing the schism in the Christian Church that divided it between Rome and Constantinople.

In Ankara, Pope Francis stressed the need for reconciliation and dialogue between the religions.

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Pope Francis will arrive in Turkey for what is billed as a historic visit to promote religious dialogue in the country.

The pontiff is to be greeted in Ankara by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and will later travel to Istanbul to meet the head of the Orthodox Christian church.

This is only the fourth visit by a pope to Muslim-majority Turkey.

During his trip, Pope Francis is likely to touch on humanitarian issues, such as the plight of Syrian refugees.

The three-day papal visit comes as Islamic State insurgents have captured swathes of neighboring Iraq and Syria.

Turkey is now home to at least 1.6 million people from Syria, most of them living close to the border.

In an interview on the eve of his visit, Pope Francis made his feelings on the Syrian conflict known,.

The pontiff told an Israeli newspaper that the persecution of Christians in the region is “the worst” it has been since Christianity’s earliest days.

Vatican officials say religious tolerance will be high on the agenda when Pope Francis meets President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – whose AK Party is rooted in political Islam – and Mehmet Gormez, Turkey’s top cleric.

In Istanbul, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmed mosque, the 17th-Century place of worship popularly known as the Blue Mosque.

The pontiff is also due to sign a joint declaration with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, on trying to bridge the divides between Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity.

Although most of Turkey’s 80 million citizens are Muslims, there are about 120,000 Christians in the country – once the centre of the Orthodox Christian world.

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Pope Francis is visiting Strasbourg where he will address the European Parliament and Council of Europe on social and economic issues.

The Pope is expected to speak about anti-immigration sentiment and unemployment during his four-hour trip.

Many of Strasbourg’s Catholics are upset that he will not meet them or visit the city’s cathedral.

Some Catholics have accused the Pope of neglecting Europe since his election in 2013.

Pope Francis visited the Italian island of Lampedusa in July 2013 to meet and pray for illegal immigrants, and went to Albania in September. The Pope has said that he is planning a second visit to France in 2015.

Residents of Strasbourg have been told they can watch both of the pontiff’s speeches on a giant screen that will be installed inside the cathedral, which is celebrating its millennial anniversary.

Pope Francis is making the second papal visit to Strasbourg after Pope John Paul II visited the city in 1988.

Pope John Paul II addressed the European parliament where he was heckled by Northern Irish MEP the Rev Ian Paisley.

During his speech the late Pope called Europe “a beacon of civilization”.

However, Pope Francis has called Europe a “tired” continent which worships the “idol of money”.

In Strasbourg, Pope Francis is expected to call for greater tolerance and inclusion in response to the success nationalist parties have seen in parts of Europe.

In May, several of these parties performed strongly in the European parliamentary elections.

Pope Francis is also thought likely to address Europe’s ongoing economic crisis and the social problems that it has created.

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The Vatican is raffling off the gifts given to Pope Francis in order to raise money for the poor.

A Homero Ortega hat, a new four-wheel-drive Fiat Panda, bicycles, an espresso coffee machine, watches are among the objects to be raffled off.

A poster recently went up around the Vatican announcing the raffle of 13 objects as well as more than 30 unspecified “consolation prizes”.

In the past, most gifts given to popes have either been quietly given away to missions, church institutions, or have gathered dust in a Vatican warehouse.

Pope Francis has made concern for the poor one of the hallmarks of his papacy. He recently ordered shower stalls to be built around the Vatican so that homeless people in the area could wash up.

Tickets for the raffle cost 10 euros ($12.50) and could be purchased from the Vatican post office.

The raffle winners will be announced on January 8, 2015.

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Pope Paul VI has been beatified by Pope Francis on the last day of the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

This year’s synod of the Catholic Church has ended in clinches over how to minister to gay people or whether to give Holy Communion to Catholics who have divorced and remarried.

Paul VI, who was pontiff from 1963 until his death in 1978, had faced similar pressures during the advent of free love, when the church came out against birth control. Pope Paul VI based the decision on Catholic teachings on marriage.

But the church is honoring other aspects of his work, highlighting his efforts to spread social justice and minister to the poor, topics Pope Francis also carries on his banner.

Paul VI is also known for having pioneered papal world visits, traveling to Africa, Latin America and Asia. He was the first pope to visit five continents, the Vatican has said.

He was also the first pope to visit the Holy Land since St. Peter, the Catholic News Service said.

Pope Paul VI has been beatified by Pope Francis on the last day of the Synod of Bishops on the Family

Pope Paul VI has been beatified by Pope Francis on the last day of the Synod of Bishops on the Family

A trip to the Philippines in 1970 could have cost him his life, but it also provided one of the two necessary precursors for his beatification, a relic.

When he was attacked by a man with a bayonet in Manila, two vests he was wearing were stained with blood, according to historian John-Peter Pham. One of the vests was brought to the beatification in a reliquary.

The second precursor required for beatification is a miracle. Pope Paul VI’s involves an unborn child in California, Vatican Radio said.

A doctor advised a pregnant woman to abort her child because of danger to her life and his, but she refused and instead had a nun pray for her using a photo of Pope Paul, CNS reported. The child was born healthy.

The announcement of Pope Paul VI’s beatification came in May, two weeks after Pope Francis canonized two other predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, allowing them to ascend to sainthood.

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Proposals for wider acceptance of gay people failed to win a two-thirds majority at the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family.

A mid-term draft report issued through the meeting had called for greater openness towards gay people and divorced Catholics who have remarried.

However, those paragraphs were not approved, and were stripped from the final text.

The report will inform further debate before the synod reconvenes in larger numbers in a year’s time.

Correspondents say the text welcoming gay people and remarried Catholics had been watered down in the final version that was voted on – but it appears that they still met with resistance from conservatives.

All other parts of the draft report were accepted by the synod.

Proposals for wider acceptance of gay people failed to win a two-thirds majority at the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family

Proposals for wider acceptance of gay people failed to win a two-thirds majority at the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family

Speaking after the vote, Pope Francis told attendees that he would have been “worried and saddened” if there had not been “animated discussions” or if “everyone had been in agreement or silent in a false and acquiescent peace”, AP news agency reported.

Pope Francis also cautioned against “hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God”.

While the earlier draft had said that gay people had “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community”, the revised document only said that discrimination against gay people “is to be avoided”.

The Pope said the full draft document, including the rejected paragraphs, should be published.

“Keep in mind this is not a magisterial document….the Pope asked for it to be made available to show the degree of maturity that has taken place and that which still needs to take place in discussions over the coming year,” Holy See press officer Tom Rosica said on Vatican Radio.

Pope Francis had made a powerful appeal to traditionalists not to lock themselves within the letter of the law, but conservative cardinals and bishops carried the day at the end of the synod.

About 200 bishops attended the synod on family issues at the Vatican.

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Pope Francis has opened the extraordinary general session of the Synod of Bishops on family life at the Vatican.

The pontiff and more than 200 senior bishops will be joined by lay Catholics to discuss some of the most controversial issues affecting the Catholic Church: abortion, contraception, homos**uality and divorce.

The extraordinary Synod lasts two weeks and a follow-up meeting will be held next year.

Pope Francis said on October 4 that he wanted bishops to really listen to the Catholic community.

Pope Francis has opened the extraordinary general session of the Synod of Bishops on family life at the Vatican

Pope Francis has opened the extraordinary general session of the Synod of Bishops on family life at the Vatican (photo Reuters)

The pontiff said he hoped they would have a “sincere, open and fraternal” discussion that would respond to the “epochal changes” that families were living through.

Last year, a global survey launched by Pope Francis suggested that the majority of Catholics reject Church teaching on issues such as s** and contraception.

As one of the world’s oldest religious institutions, the Catholic Church is in no hurry to change its teachings.

No-one should expect rapid results from this Synod, but many Catholics are hoping that it will bring some change.

After these two weeks of debate, the Synod will gather again in a year’s time to continue its review.

The Catholic Church has more than one billion members around the world.

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Three relatives of Pope Francis have been killed when their car slammed into the back of a truck on a highway in central Argentina, the Vatican’s official broadcasting service said on Tuesday.

Pope Francis’ nephew, Emanuel Bergoglio, who was driving the car was in serious condition following the accident just after midnight on Monday. Emanuel Bergoglio’s wife, 35, and two children aged 2 years and 8 months died.

Three relatives of Pope Francis have been killed in a car crash in Argentina

Three relatives of Pope Francis have been killed in a car crash in Argentina

“The pope has been informed and is deeply grieved by the tragic news. He asks all those who share his pain to join with him in prayer,” said a statement on the website of Radio Vaticana.

The driver of the grains truck, Raul Pombo, told local television stations he felt the impact and found Emanuel Bergoglio’s vehicle wedged under the rear of his vehicle.

“I began stopping passing cars to ask for their fire extinguishers because the car was on fire,” Raul Pombo said.

The region’s highway patrol chief, Jorge Rainieri, called the impact “powerful” and TV pictures showed the mangled wreckage of the compact car. The accident occurred in Argentina’s central Cordoba province.

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Pope Francis spoke about an early retirement and his own death for the first time, giving himself “two or three years”.

Talking to reporters on a flight back to the Vatican from South Korea, 77-year-old Pope Francis, who seemed in good spirits, was asked about his global popularity, which was evident again during his five-day visit.

“I see it as the generosity of the people of God. I try to think of my sins, my mistakes, not to become proud. Because I know it will last only a short time. Two or three years and then I’ll be off to the Father’s House,” the pontiff replied.

Pope Francis said he could handle the popularity “more naturally” these days, though at first it had “scared me a little”.

Pope Francis spoke about an early retirement and his own death for the first time

Pope Francis spoke about an early retirement and his own death for the first time

While the pope has not spoken publicly before about when he might meet his maker, a Vatican source said he had previously told those close to him that he thought he only had a few years left.

Pope Francis also mentioned the possibility of retiring from the Papacy, as his predecessor Benedict XVI did last year, if he felt he could no longer adequately perform his duties.

Resigning the papacy was a possibility “even if it does not appeal to some theologians”, Pope Francis told reporters.

He added that 60 years ago it was practically unheard of for Catholic bishops to retire, but nowadays it was common.

“Benedict XVI opened a door,” he said.

Pope Francis admitted that he had “some nerve problems”, which required treatment.

“Must treat them well, these nerves, give them mate [an Argentine stimulant tea] every day,” he joked.

“One of these neuroses, is that I’m too much of a homebody,” he added, recalling that the last time he’d taken a holiday outside of his native Argentina was “with the Jesuit community in 1975″.

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Pope Francis has lifted a ban the Catholic Church put on the beatification of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero over his suspected Marxist ideas.

An outspoken critic of the military regime during El Salvador’s bloody civil war, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass in 1980.

Beatification, or declaring a person “blessed”, is the necessary prelude to full sainthood.

Oscar Romero was one of the main proponents of Liberation Theology – an interpretation of Christian faith through the perspective of the poor.

On Monday, Pope Francis said he was hoping for a swift beatification process.

“For me Romero is a man of God,” the Pope told journalists on the plane bringing him back from a trip to South Korea.

Pope Francis has lifted a ban the Catholic Church put on the beatification of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero over his suspected Marxist ideas

Pope Francis has lifted a ban the Catholic Church put on the beatification of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero over his suspected Marxist ideas

“There are no doctrinal problems and it is very important that [the beatification] is done quickly.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero denounced the right-wing death squads that operated in the Central American nation at the time and the oppression against the poor, calling for an end to all political violence.

Left-wing rebels fought an insurgency against the US-backed right-wing government.

Some 75,000 people were killed in the civil war, which began in 1980 and ended in 1992 with an UN-brokered peace agreement.

Archbishop Oscar Romero was killed on March 24, 1980, aged 62, after ending his sermon in the capital, San Salvador.

No-one has ever been convicted in connection with his murder.

In 2010, then President Mauricio Funes – El Salvador’s first left-wing leader since the end of the civil war – made an official apology.

“I am seeking pardon in the name of the state,” Mauricio Funes said as he unveiled a mural honoring Oscar Romero at El Salvador’s international airport.

Archbishop Oscar Romero, President Mauricio Funes said, was a victim of right-wing death squads “who unfortunately acted with the protection, collaboration or participation of state agents”.

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Pope Francis has urged for reconciliation between the two Koreas, on the final day of his visit to South Korea.

Koreans, Pope Francis said, should reject a “mindset of suspicion and confrontation” and find new paths to build peace.

The pontiff spoke at a Mass in Seoul’s main cathedral attended by President Park Geun-hye and North Korean defectors.

The service coincided with the start of major US-South Korea military exercises.

The annual drills, called Ulchi Freedom Guardian, last for 12 days and involve some 80,000 US and South Korean service personnel.

The exercises always enrage North Korea, which has in recent weeks conducted a series of short-range missile tests – including one as the Pope arrived.

It has threatened a “merciless” retaliatory strike in response to the drills.

North Korea and South Korea remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice and not a peace treaty.

Pope Francis has urged for reconciliation between the two Koreas, on the final day of his visit to South Korea

Pope Francis has urged for reconciliation between the two Koreas, on the final day of his visit to South Korea (photo EPA)

Speaking at Myeongdong Cathedral, Pope Francis said all Koreans were “brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people”.

“Let us pray for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences,” he said.

He also called for generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and urged Koreans to work together as one, “with no victors or vanquished”.

Representatives from North Korea’s state-run Korean Catholic Association were invited to attend the Mass, but Pyongyang rejected this offer.

Also at the service were seven elderly women forced to work as prostitutes for Japanese troops during World War Two.

One of the women gave Pope Francis a gold butterfly pin – a symbol of their continuing struggle for justice – which he wore during the Mass.

Pope Francis, who on Saturday beatified 124 Koreans who died for their faith in the 18th and 19th Centuries, later flew out of Seoul.

The pontiff will visit the Philippines and Sri Lanka in January.

En route to Rome, Pope Francis sent a telegram to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a follow-up to a message he had sent when he flew over China to South Korea on Thursday.

“Returning to Rome after my visit to Korea, I wish to renew to your Excellency and your fellow citizens the assurance of my best wishes, as I invoke divine blessings upon your land,” Pope Francis said.

The Vatican and Beijing have no formal ties, but the decision to let Pope Francis fly through Chinese airspace is being seen as a possible sign of warmth.

When Pope John Paul II visited Seoul in 1989, he had to fly through Russian airspace to get to South Korea.

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Pope Francis has beatified 124 of South Korea’s first Catholics at a large open-air Mass in Seoul on Saturday.

The pontiff paid tribute to the Koreans, who died for their faith in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

It comes on the third day of his visit to South Korea – his first trip to Asia since becoming pope in March 2013.

Pope Francis also met survivors of the Sewol ferry disaster and delivered his first public mass in the region on Friday.

The beautification ceremony was held at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance.

Beatification, or declaring a person “blessed”, is the necessary prelude to full sainthood.

Pope Francis is spending five days in South Korea, where the Catholic Church is growing. It currently has just over 5.4 million members, some 10.4% of the population.

Crowds of worshippers lined the streets leading up to Gwanghwamun Plaza for Saturday’s ceremony. The square was the site where unrepentant Catholics were paraded before they were publicly executed.

Pope Francis has beatified 124 of South Korea's first Catholics at a large open-air Mass in Seoul

Pope Francis has beatified 124 of South Korea’s first Catholics at a large open-air Mass in Seoul (photo EPA)

“They were willing to make great sacrifices and let themselves be stripped of whatever kept them from Christ – possessions and land, prestige and honor – for they knew that Christ alone was their true treasure,” Pope Francis told the crowd in his sermon.

“They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for.”

the people who were beatified today were the founders of the Catholic Church in South Korea 200 years ago .

They were also unique because they were not converted by missionaries who came to Korea but they learnt about Catholicism themselves and brought the books back to Korea to spread the Catholic Church and were executed by the royal authorities for doing so.

On Friday, Pope Francis held Mass for tens of thousands of people gathered at a football stadium in Daejeon, his first public event since arriving in South Korea.

In his address, the pope warned Catholics of a “cancer” of despair in materially-obsessed societies, saying that materialism was spreading like a spiritual desert across the affluent world.

Before Mass got underway, he met with some of the survivors and relatives of the Sewol ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people in April this year.

He was later greeted by a rapturous crowd of some 10,000 youths in Dangjin, where he spoke briefly off-the-cuff in English, acknowledging his difficulties with the language.

There he urged South Koreans to pray for unification with the north.

“Let us pray for our brothers in the north,” Pope Francis said.

Meanwhile, China’s leadership failed to receive a telegram sent by the Pope as he flew over the country on his way to South Korea, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said on Friday.

It is traditional for the pontiff to send blessings to the leadership of a country he flies over, but this was the first time a pope had been permitted to use Chinese air space.

The gesture is seen as significant because the Vatican and China have had no formal ties since the Communist party took power in 1949.

A technical glitch was thought to have stopped the message from being received, which was later resent via the Italian embassy in Beijing, Father Federico Lombardi said.

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Pope Francis left Seoul airport in a compact black Kia that many South Koreans would consider too humble a conveyance for a globally powerful figure.

In a live television broadcast, Pope Francis climbed into the backseat of the boxy Kia Soul, rolled down the window and waved.

Pope Francis‘ frugality and humble demeanor have received wide coverage in South Korea, a fiercely competitive country that celebrates ostentatious displays of status and wealth. This national trait can be seen in booming industries such as private tutoring and plastic surgery.

Pope Francis left Seoul airport in a compact black Kia that many South Koreans would consider too humble a conveyance for a globally powerful figure

Pope Francis left Seoul airport in a compact black Kia that many South Koreans would consider too humble a conveyance for a globally powerful figure (photo AP)

The images of the smiling pope in his little car struck a chord online, with many playing on the car’s name.

For the man called “The People’s Pope” the choice makes sense. Pope Francis has eschewed the bulletproof “popemobiles” that his predecessors used on foreign trips and urged priests around the world to travel in low-key cars.

Inside the Vatican City, Pope Francis prefers a blue Ford Focus, or when he’s out in St. Peter’s Square, a white open-topped vehicle that allows him to literally reach out and touch the masses.

South Korean media widely reported that the pope requested the smallest South Korean car during his visit. The Soul is Kia’s second-smallest model and reportedly provides more leg room than other compact cars.

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Pope Francis has arrived in South Korea, beginning his first visit to Asia since he took over the papacy in March 2013.

During his trip, Pope Francis will beatify Korean Catholics who died for their faith and attend a Catholic youth festival.

The South Korean Catholic Church is one of the fastest growing in the world, with just over 5.4 million members, some 10.4% of the population.

North Korea fired short-range rockets off its east coast around the time of the Pope’s arrival.

It fired three rockets on Thursday morning as the pope’s plane approached South Korean airspace, and another two in the afternoon, according to news agencies.

Pyongyang has engaged in several such launches in recent months in what it says is a response to US and South Korean provocations – in the latest case, a military drill due to start on Monday.

South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye was at the airport to greet the pontiff.

The pontiff is expected to pay tribute to some of South Korea’s first Catholics when he beatifies 124 Koreans who died in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

After an individual is beatified, he or she is given the title “blessed”.

Pope Francis has arrived in South Korea, beginning his first visit to Asia since he took over the papacy in March 2013

Pope Francis has arrived in South Korea, beginning his first visit to Asia since he took over the papacy in March 2013

The beatification ceremony will be held on Saturday at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, with up to one million people expected to attend.

Pope Francis is also attending Asian Youth Day, a festival for young Catholics from across the region.

He is also scheduled to meet students who survived the Sewol ferry disaster that claimed more than 300 lives.

A Mass for Peace and Reconciliation will be held in the Myeong-dong cathedral in Seoul on Monday, on the final day of his trip.

There Pope Francis will deliver a message of peace for the divided Koreas and East Asia, according to Yonhap News Agency.

North Korea rejected an invitation by the Archdiocese of Seoul for 10 North Korean Catholics to attend the final mass, South Korean officials say.

It is not clear how many Catholics there are in North Korea.

According to a UN Human Rights Council report released in February 2014, apart from the few organized state-controlled churches, Christians were prohibited from practicing their religion and were persecuted.

The trip is the first visit by a pope to Asia in almost 20 years. Pope Francis is due to visit again in January when he travels to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, one of only two Asian countries with a Catholic majority – the other being East Timor.

Pope John Paul II was the last pope to visit South Korea in 1989, where he prayed for reunification between the North and the South.

Meanwhile, on his way to South Korea Pope Francis also sent a telegram to China’s leaders, a tradition when the pontiff flies over a country.

“I extend my best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke divine blessings of peace and well being upon the nation,” the telegram said.

The Vatican has no ties with Beijing, which does not recognize the Vatican’s authority and runs its own Catholic Church.

The last time a pope visited the region, he had to avoid Chinese air space.

In what a Church spokesman has called “a sign of detente”, the papal plane was given permission to use Chinese air space.

More than 100 Chinese people were due to attend Asian Youth Day, but about half were unable to attend due to “a complicated situation inside China”, said a spokesman for a committee organizing the Pope’s visit.

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Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, the Sudanese woman who fled to Italy after being spared a death sentence for renouncing Islam, has met Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag flew to Rome with her family after more than a month in the US embassy in Khartoum.

There was global condemnation when she was sentenced to hang for apostasy by a Sudanese court.

Meriam Ibrahim’s father is Muslim so according to Sudan’s version of Islamic law she is also Muslim and cannot convert.

She was raised by her Christian mother and says she has never been Muslim.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag has met Pope Francis at the Vatican

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag has met Pope Francis at the Vatican

Welcoming her at the airport, Italy’s PM Matteo Renzi said: “Today is a day of celebration.”

Meriam Ibrahim met Pope Francis at his Santa Marta residence at the Vatican soon after her arrival.

“The Pope thanked her for her witness to faith,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was quoted as saying.

The meeting, which lasted around half an hour, was intended to show “closeness and solidarity for all those who suffer for their faith,” he added.

There was no prior indication of Italy’s involvement in the case.

Lapo Pistelli, Italy’s vice-minister for foreign affairs, accompanied Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag on the flight from Khartoum.

He posted a photo of himself with Meriam Ibrahim and her children on his Facebook account as they were about to land in Rome.

“Mission accomplished,” he wrote.

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The profit of the Vatican bank plunged in 2013 largely due to a clean-up process which has seen it end relationships with 3,000 customers.

Officially known as the Institute for Religious Works, the bank reported a 2.9 million euro (3.9 million) profit for 2013, down from 86.6 million euros ($117.8 million) in 2012.

Most of its losses came from the winding up of investments made before its reform program began.

Without these, it said profit would have been 70 million euros.

Pope Francis has sought to stamp out corruption and other abuses at the Vatican bank, which handles funds for the Catholic Church

Pope Francis has sought to stamp out corruption and other abuses at the Vatican bank, which handles funds for the Catholic Church (photo Bloomberg)

Pope Francis has sought to stamp out corruption and other abuses at the Vatican bank, which handles funds for the Catholic Church.

He pledged to clean up the bank following accusations of money laundering and a lack of due diligence which allowed non-religious, and even crony, businessmen to hold accounts.

Between May 2013 and June 2014, outside experts combed through all the bank’s accounts in what the Vatican said was a “systematic screening of all existing customer records”.

As a result, it said it had terminated 2,600 “dormant” accounts which had seen no activity for a long time, as well as 396 customers who didn’t meet the criteria for doing business with the bank.

It said a further 359 customer accounts which didn’t meet its criteria were in the process of being terminated.

“I repeatedly said that I would proceed with zero tolerance for any suspicious activity. We have carried out our reforms in this spirit,” said the bank’s President, Ernst von Freyberg.

Ernst von Freyberg’s statement came ahead of an announcement on Wednesday which is expected to detail further expected re-structuring at the bank.

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The entire board of the Vatican’s financial regulator has been dismissed by Pope Francis as he looks to reform the city-state’s banking practices following a corruption scandal.

The move is also reportedly due to infighting among the “old guard”.

The Financial Intelligence Authority’s Italian, five-person board were due to see their terms expire in 2016.

They are being replaced with four international experts from Italy, Singapore, Switzerland and the US.

Pope Francis fired the entire board of the Vatican's financial regulator

Pope Francis fired the entire board of the Vatican’s financial regulator

The Vatican said the new directors include Juan Zarate, a former national security adviser to President George Bush, and Joseph Pillay, a civil servant and adviser to the president of Singapore.

The other two board members are Maria Bianca Farina, an executive at the Italian postal service and Marc Odendall, a Swiss financial consultant.

Pope Francis has sought to stamp out corruption and other abuses at the Vatican bank, which handles funds for the Catholic Church.

The Vatican bank is known officially as the Institute for Religious Works and has assets worth more than $8 billion.

However, it became embroiled in a scandal last year after senior cleric Monsignor Nunzio Scarano was arrested by Italian police for allegedly being involved in money-laundering.

Nunzio Scarano and two others face trial for trying to move 20 million euros illegally from Switzerland.

As a result, there has been push to align the Holy See’s finances with international transparency rules.

Pope Francis also issued a decree last year aimed at combating money-laundering and prevent any financing of terrorism.

Pope Francis is visiting Yad Vashem – Israel’s national Holocaust memorial – on the final leg of his three-day Middle East tour.

After arriving in Israel on Sunday, Pope Francis described the Holocaust as “an enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink”.

On Monday, the Pope was also expected to visit religious sites in Jerusalem and hold talks with Israel’s chief rabbis.

The pontiff’s tour has already taken in Jordan and the Palestinian territories.

Pope Francis is expected to visit religious sites in Jerusalem and hold talks with Israel's chief rabbis

Pope Francis is expected to visit religious sites in Jerusalem and hold talks with Israel’s chief rabbis

On Sunday, the Pope invited Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican to pray for peace. Both accepted.

Monday’s itinerary began with a meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is situated on a disputed holy site known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and Jews as the Temple Mount.

Pope Francis entered the Dome of the Rock, from where Islamic tradition says the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Later, the Pope will visit the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism. It is part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount dating back to a time when a Jewish temple stood there.

Before visiting Yad Vashem, Pope Francis laid a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, who is seen as the founder of modern Zionism.

Three previous pontiffs who have visited Jerusalem over the past 50 years have not visited the site.

The move was welcomed by PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.

“We commend and appreciate your decision to lay a wreath on the grave of Binyamin Zev Herzl,” Benjamin Netanyahu said, using Theodor Herzl’s Hebrew name.

The official purpose for Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land is to improve ties with the Orthodox Church.

However, it comes just weeks after peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down.

Later on Monday, Pope Francis will travel to Tel Aviv, from where he will fly back to Rome.

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Pope Francis has prayed at Bethlehem wall during his three-day tour of the Middle East.

The unscheduled stop came after he called for an end to the “increasingly unacceptable” Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Speaking in Bethlehem, Pope Francis invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the Vatican to pray for peace.

The tour’s official purpose is to improve ties with the Orthodox Church.

Pope Francis has prayed at Bethlehem wall during his three-day tour of the Middle East

Pope Francis has prayed at Bethlehem wall during his three-day tour of the Middle East

Pope Francis is to meet Bartholomew I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, in Jerusalem later – to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting of Catholic and Orthodox leaders who moved to end 900 years of division between the two churches.

The Pope’s visit comes just weeks after peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down, and his invitation to Rome for Presidents Peres and Abbas – quickly welcomed by both – is an intriguing development.

Following the Mass in Bethlehem, Pope Francis flew by helicopter to Tel Aviv where he was formally welcomed to Israel by President Shimon Peres and PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable,” the Pope said on Sunday as he met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Pope Francis talked of the “tragic consequences of the protracted conflict” and the need “to intensify efforts and initiatives” to create a stable peace – based on a two-state solution.

He later held an open-air Mass for 8,000 local Christians by Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, during which he said he wished to invite Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres to join him at the Vatican “in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace”.

According to Pope Francis’ spokesman, Federico Lombardi, the move was papal peace initiative and believed to be the first of its kind.

Pope Francis has insisted the purpose of his Middle East trip is purely religious, but his first speech on his arrival in Bethlehem showed he is also willing to address pressing political issues, correspondents say.

On his way to Bethlehem, Pope Francis stopped to pray at an 8 m concrete wall that is part of the barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank.

The Pope rested his head against the wall – which Israel says is needed for security, but the Palestinians see as a land grab – near graffiti reading: “Free Palestine.”

Palestinian officials have noted that Pope Francis is the first pontiff to travel directly to the West Bank rather than enter via Israel: Many Palestinians see that as a recognition of their push for full statehood.

The Pope’s tour began on Saturday with a visit to Jordan.

On Monday Pope Francis is due to visit the al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem’s Old City followed by the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.

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Pope Francis has urged for an end to the “increasingly unacceptable” Palestinian-Israeli conflict during a visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

The Pope’s comments came as he met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as part of a three-day tour of the Middle East.

The pontiff is holding an open-air mass for 8,000 local Christians by Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.

The tour’s official purpose is to improve ties with the Orthodox Church.

Later, Pope Francis will travel to Tel Aviv and then Jerusalem where he will meet Bartholomew I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople.

However, correspondents say Palestinians are hoping for a show of support as his visit comes just weeks after peace talks with Israel broke down.

Palestinian officials have already noted that Pope Francis is the first pontiff to travel directly to the West Bank rather than enter via Israel.

Speaking in Bethlehem on Sunday, the Pope said: “The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable.”

Pope Francis is holding an open-air mass for 8,000 local Christians by Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity

Pope Francis is holding an open-air mass for 8,000 local Christians by Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity (photo AFP)

He talked of the “tragic consequences of the protracted conflict” and the need “to intensify efforts and initiatives” to create a stable peace – based on a two-state solution.

Pope Francis has insisted the purpose of his Middle East trip is purely religious.

However, the first speech on his arrival in Bethlehem showed that he is also willing to address pressing political issues.

On his way to Manger Square where he is holding an open-air mass, Pope Francis stopped to look at a high concrete wall that is part of the barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank.

Israel says it is needed for security but the Palestinians see it as a land grab.

During the afternoon, Pope Francis will take a short flight to Tel Aviv where he will be formally welcomed to Israel by President Shimon Peres before flying on to Jerusalem.

Israel has issued restraining orders against several Jewish right-wing activists this week over concerns that they could try to disrupt the visit.

Twenty-six people were arrested overnight for throwing stones and bottles at police during a protest at a holy site on Mount Zion, reports say.

In Jerusalem, the Pope will commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting of Catholic and Orthodox leaders who moved to end 900 years of division between the two churches.

Pope Francis’ tour began on Saturday with a visit to Jordan.

He was welcomed by King Abdullah II. In a speech at the royal palace, he stressed the need for an “urgent” solution to the Syrian conflict.

Pope Francis praised Jordan for its “generous welcome” to Syrian refugees.

On Monday, Pope Francis is due visit the al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem’s Old City followed by the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.

Pope Francis will be the fourth leader of the Roman Catholic Church to visit Jerusalem, after Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who went there in 2009.

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Pope Francis arrives in Jordan at the start of a three-day visit to the Middle East which will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The Pope Francis is traveling to Amman, where he will celebrate Mass in a stadium, and later meet Syrian refugees.

The official purpose of the visit is to improve ties with the Orthodox Church.

However, correspondents say many will expect Pope Francis to use his influence to try to ease tensions in the region.

Pope Francis arrives in Jordan at the start of a three-day visit to the Middle East which will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories

Pope Francis arrives in Jordan at the start of a three-day visit to the Middle East which will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories

Pope Francis will be accompanied by a rabbi and an imam – friends from his native Argentina – and hopes to improve relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land.

His journey comes only a few weeks after the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed.

Israel has issued restraining orders against several Jewish right-wing activists this week over concerns that they could try to disrupt the visit.

Police said offensive “anti-Christian graffiti” was discovered on the wall of a church in the southern city of Beersheba on Friday.

Pope Francis’ journey marks the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and the head of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Athenagoras.

The meeting ended 900 years of separation and enduring antagonism between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity.

On Sunday, Pope Francis will travel to Bethlehem in the West Bank and preside over Mass in Manger Square, near the site where Jesus is believed to have been born.

He will also meet the current Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch, Bartholomew, and they will sign a declaration of friendship.

The pontiff’schedule on Monday is set to include a visit to the al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem’s Old City followed by the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.

Pope Francis will be the fourth leader of the Roman Catholic Church to visit Jerusalem, after Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who went there in 2009.

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