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Pope Francis approved a miracle credited to the intercession of Pope Paul VI – who died in 1978 after a 15-year pontificate and is remembered by many for his ban on artificial contraception for Catholics.

Pope Paul VI’s beatification ceremony will be held at the Vatican on October 19, Pope Francis announced.

The move came two weeks after the canonization of two other 20th Century popes – John XXIII and John Paul II.

Beatification is the third of four steps in the process by which someone officially becomes a saint.

It requires at least one miracle to have been attributed to the intercession of a candidate for sainthood who, once beatified, is given the title blessed.

Pope Paul VI’s beatification ceremony will be held at the Vatican on October 19

Pope Paul VI’s beatification ceremony will be held at the Vatican on October 19

After beatification, a separate miracle would have to be verified in order for Paul VI to be canonized – declared a saint – allowing him to be venerated by the universal Church as “an example of holiness that can be followed with confidence”.

Paul VI was born Giovanni Battista Montini in the Lombardy region of Italy in 1897, the son of a prominent newspaper editor.

He was elected pope in 1963 and continued the reforms of his predecessor, John XXIII.

Paul VI died in August 1978 and was succeeded briefly by Pope John Paul who died in October 1978.

During his 15-year pontificate Pope Paul VI wrote seven encyclicals – the most controversial of which was Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), published in 1968.

Its uncompromising position on birth control led to protests around the Catholic world and some national Roman Catholic Church hierarchies openly modified the statement.

In 1995 Pope John Paul II supported Paul VI’s view on birth control in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).

October’s beatification ceremony will be held at the end of a crucial meeting of global bishops to discuss Catholic teaching on family life, called by Pope Francis.

As is customary, the Vatican gave no details about the miracle – which the Holy See requires must be a phenomenon certified by doctors as having no medical explanation.

However, Italian media report the miracle involved a Californian baby who was born healthy despite the pre-birth diagnoses of a ruptured foetal bladder and absence of amniotic fluid.

The mother reportedly refused to abort the child, instead praying for Paul VI’s intercession at the behest of a nun.

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Pope Francis has declared Popes John Paul II and John XXIII saints in a ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of people in St. Peter Square.

Pope Francis praised his two predecessors as “men of courage” at the Vatican service, the first time in history that two popes have been canonized at the same time.

The Mass was attended by Pope Emeritus Benedict, who quit as pope last year, and roughly 100 foreign delegations.

Analysts say Pope Francis is trying to balance the conservative legacy of John Paul with the reforming zeal of John.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis during Mass before the canonization ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis during Mass before the canonization ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II

At the climax of the service, Pope Francis said in Latin: “We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”

Relics of each man – a container of blood from John Paul and a piece of skin from John – were placed near the altar.

Pope Francis paid tribute to the two new saints as “priests, bishops and popes of the 20th Century”.

“They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful,” he said.

The Vatican estimated some 800,000 pilgrims had poured into Rome to see the two-hour ceremony first-hand.

For those unable to make it into St Peter’s Square, giant screens were set up in nearby streets and elsewhere in the city.

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Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII’s canonization is bringing attention to the complex process of becoming a saint, a highly regulated series of steps that can seem quite mysterious to those who are not devout Roman Catholics.

How many saints are there?

It’s hard to pin down an exact number, but more than you might think. In the old days – as in the first thousand years of the church’s history – saints were created by popular demand.

St. Ulrich of Augsburg was the first to be canonized by a pope, in 993, and the Vatican eventually took over and formalized the process.

The Vatican’s Roman Martyrology says some 7,000 people have been canonized or beatified (an earlier step), but some scholars believe the total number of saints is more like 10,000.

Is it easier or harder to become a saint now?

The raw numbers would suggest it’s easier, though they don’t tell the entire story.

Pope Francis, who has been pontiff for just over a year, has already canonized 817 men and women, but 813 of them were martyrs from a single group of Italians who were beheaded by Ottoman Turks in the 15th Century.

Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII’s canonization is bringing attention to the complex process of becoming a saint

Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII’s canonization is bringing attention to the complex process of becoming a saint

John Paul II canonized 482 during the quarter-century he presided over the church, but more than 400 of those were from groups of martyrs, according to the Catholic World Report.

By contrast, Pope Benedict XVI added 45 saints during his pontificate.

Does every pope become a saint?

Yet, only about a third of all popes are saints, and it’s getting harder to make the leap the from St. Peter’s throne to sainthood, according to the Pew Research Center.

Fifty-two of the first 55 popes got the nod but that pace has slowed dramatically. Only five popes have become saints in the last 1,000 years, although that will now shoot up to seven. Four more popes who died between 1878 and 1978 are in the pipeline – Pius IX, Pius XII, Paul VI, and John Paul I – but John Paul II leapfrogged ahead of them.

Can sainthood be revoked?

Canonization is permanent but some saints have been, for lack of a better term, demoted – by being dropped from the Vatican’s list of official feast days, sometimes because of questions about whether they actually existed.

One notable example is Saint Philomena, who was recognized in 1835 after a tomb with a remains of a teenage girl was found in the Roman catacombs with the inscription “Filumena” and a symbol of martydom, according to the Times of London.

The Vatican suppressed her cult in 1960 after experts decided there was no evidence linking the bones in the tomb to the legend of a martyred Greek princess.

Saint Christopher, the patron of travelers, lost his standing in 1969 – although not his popular cachet if the number of medals hanging from rear-view mirrors in cars is any indication. St. George, the patron of warriors, was also bumped down that year but restored in 2001 without explanation.

Where can I find a list of all the saints?

The compendiums that exist are extensive, but not necessarily exhaustive. And you might want to brush up on your Latin.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the bureaucratic arm of the church that shepherds candidates through the complex steps, published the Index ac Status Causarum in 1998 with the names of the blesseds and saints – but only for the previous 400 years.

An oft-cited reference is Butler’s Lives of the Saints, but that was written in the mid-18th century and only contains 2,500 biographies in its latest revision.

Then there is the Acta Santorum, an index based on feast days that has 68 volumes, the first of which was published in 1643. A cluster of scholarly Jesuit priests in Brussels, the Bollandists, is toiling to complete it in chronological order, using church records and old texts in myriad languages to verify that the saints deserve veneration.

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Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII are to be declared saints at an unprecedented open-air ceremony in Rome on Sunday.

A Mass co-celebrated by Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, will be witnessed by one million pilgrims and a vast TV and radio audience.

Nearly 100 foreign delegations are due, including royal dignitaries and heads of state and government.

It is the first time two popes have been canonized at the same time.

Correspondents say the move is being seen as an attempt to unite conservative and reformist camps within the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII are to be declared saints at an unprecedented open-air ceremony in Rome

Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII are to be declared saints at an unprecedented open-air ceremony in Rome

Pilgrims have been pouring into Rome and special bus, train and boat services ferried many more into the city early on Sunday morning for the two-hour ceremony which starts at 10:00 local.

Some had bagged places to sleep overnight as close as possible to St Peter’s Square, hoping to be among the first in when it opens to the public.

Giant screens have also been erected in nearby streets and elsewhere in the city for those unable to get into the square.

The Vatican confirmed on Saturday that 87-year-old Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would make a rare public appearance alongside his successor, Pope Francis.

“He will co-celebrate, which does not mean he will go to the altar,” a Vatican spokesman said.

“We will all be happy to have him there.”

Benedict XVI became the first pope to resign for 600 years when he quit for health reasons a year ago, sending shock waves around the world.

The process of saint-making is usually long and very costly.

However, John Paul II, whose 26-year reign ended in 2005, has been fast-tracked to sainthood in just nine years.

Many among the huge crowds that gathered as he lay dying cried out “Santo subito!” (Make him a saint immediately!).

By contrast Italian-born John XXIII, known as the Good Pope after his 1958-1963 papacy, had his promotion to full sainthood decided suddenly and very recently by Pope Francis.

By canonizing both John XXIII – the pope who set off the reform movement – and John Paul II – the pope who applied the brakes – Pope Francis has skillfully deflected any possible criticism that he could be taking sides.

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Pope Francis led his second Easter Mass and delivered the Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday in front of tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

After leading the ceremony that marks the holiest day in the Christian calendar, Pope Francis delivered his traditional blessing and address.

The pontiff prayed for peace in Syria and Ukraine and “an end to all war and every conflict”.

And he also prayed for those people around the world suffering from hunger, poverty, disease and neglect.

This is the second Easter mass and “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message Pope Francis, 77, has delivered as Pope.

Pope Francis led his second Easter Mass in front of tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square

Pope Francis led his second Easter Mass in front of tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square

The avenue leading up to the Vatican was filled with 35,000 flowers donated by the Netherlands.

“Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible,” Pope Francis prayed.

He appealed for more medical attention for those suffering from the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa and also prayed for the protection of the most vulnerable members of society.

Pope Francis asked God to “enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved… will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future”.

“We pray in a particular way for Syria,” he said, expressing the hope that the “defenseless civil population” will be protected from the violence and get the aid they need.

In reference to Syria, Pope Francis urged the international community to “boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue”.

Pope Francis’ message came as Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad marked Easter by visiting the ancient Christian town of Maalula.

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People have gathered in St Peter’s Square for the Easter Sunday Mass led by Pope Francis.

After leading the ceremony that marks the holiest day in the Christian calendar, Pope Francis will deliver his traditional blessing and address.

People have gathered in St Peter's Square for the Easter Sunday Mass led by Pope Francis

People have gathered in St Peter’s Square for the Easter Sunday Mass led by Pope Francis (photo Reuters)

Pope Francis is expected to use his message to highlight the suffering of people in areas of conflict, including Ukraine.

The avenue leading up to the Vatican has been decorated with 35,000 flowers donated by the Netherlands.

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Easter’s Holy Fire ceremony has been celebrated at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The Holy Fire is considered a miracle occurring every year on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.

Orthodox worshippers say the flame appears from Jesus’ tomb inside the church to show He has not forgotten his followers.

Thousands of Christian Orthodox pilgrims have celebrated Easter's Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Thousands of Christian Orthodox pilgrims have celebrated Easter’s Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

The ancient church is believed to be built on the site of his crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

In keeping with tradition, Church of the Holy Sepulchre was unlocked by a Muslim family which has held the keys for centuries.

Meanwhile in Rome, Pope Francis called on Catholics to spread the message of God “to the very ends of the Earth”.

Pope Francis called on Catholics to recover “the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people”.

The pontiff was addressing followers at an Easter vigil Mass in St Peter’s Basilica on Saturday.

The Catholic Church’s main Easter Mass will be celebrated on Easter Sunday, the holiest day in the church’s calendar.

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Easter’s Way of the Cross procession in Rome has been led by Pope Francis, with prayers for the poor and the abandoned.

Via Crucis ceremony marks Christians’ commemoration of Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday. Tens of thousands of people lined the route near the 2,000-year-old Colosseum.

Pope Francis heard the Vatican’s official preacher deliver a sermon denouncing greed and the love of money.

The procession is part of the Church’s Easter triduum festival.

Pope Francis urged the crowd to “remember all the abandoned people” and spoke of the “monstrosity of man” when he lets evil guide him.

Easter's Way of the Cross procession in Rome has been led by Pope Francis, with prayers for the poor and the abandoned

Easter’s Way of the Cross procession in Rome has been led by Pope Francis, with prayers for the poor and the abandoned

“Evil won’t have the last word, but love, mercy and pardon will” he added at the end of the Way of the Cross.

The sermon, by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, spoke of the injustice of human trafficking and suffering caused by environmental damage.

“Money is behind every evil in our society” the preacher declared.

The procession route included 14 stages, known as Stations of the Cross, at which specially written meditations were recited.

One meditation touched on the plight of child soldiers, while another recalled the deaths of migrants trying to reach more prosperous countries.

Other meditations criticized overcrowding in prisons and the treatment of the elderly.

Immigrants, prisoners, former drug addicts and elderly people were among those who helped carry a large cross between the different stations.

On Saturday night, Pope Francis will celebrate an Easter vigil Mass in St Peter’s Basilica.

Easter services will then conclude on Sunday with a Mass celebrating Jesus’s resurrection.

Pope Francis will deliver his twice-yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message.

On Thursday, the Pope washed the feet of 12 disabled people in Rome as part of the Maundy Thursday service commemorating Christ’s Last Supper.

Pope Francis broke with tradition by washing the feet of several women and a Muslim man in a ceremony traditionally restricted to men only.

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Pope Francis marked Palm Sunday in a packed St. Peter’s Square ignoring his prepared homily and spoke entirely off-the-cuff in a remarkable departure from practice.

Later, the pontiff hopped off his popemobile to pose for “selfies” with young people in the crowd.

In his homily, Pope Francis called on people, himself included, to look into their own hearts to see how they are living their lives.

“Has my life fallen asleep?” Pope Francis asked after listening to a Gospel account of how Jesus’ disciples fell asleep shortly before he was betrayed by Judas before his crucifixion.

“Am I like Pontius Pilate, who, when he sees the situation is difficult, washes my hands?”

Pope Francis sounded tired, frequently pausing to catch his breath, as he spoke for about 15 minutes in his homily during Palm Sunday Mass, which solemnly opens Holy Week for the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis marked Palm Sunday in a packed St. Peter's Square ignoring his prepared homily

Pope Francis marked Palm Sunday in a packed St. Peter’s Square ignoring his prepared homily

“Where is my heart?” the pope asked, pinpointing that as the “question which accompanies us” throughout Holy Week.

Pope Francis seemed to regain his wind after the 2 ½ hour ceremony. He shed his red vestments atop his plain white cassock, chatted amiably with cardinals dressed more formally than he at that point. Then he posed for “selfies” with young people from Rio de Janeiro who had carried a large cross in the square.

He had barely climbed aboard his open-topped popemobile when he spotted Polish youths, they, too, clamoring for a “selfie” with a pope, and he hopped off, to oblige them.

In a crowd of around 100,000 Romans, tourists and pilgrims, people clutched olive tree branches, tall palm fronds or tiny braided palm leaves shaped like crosses that were blessed by Francis at the start of the ceremony.

Pope Francis used a wooden pastoral staff carved by Italian prison inmates, who donated it to him. The pope wants to put people on the margins of life at the center of the church’s attention.

The pontiff wore red vestments, symbolizing blood shed by the crucified Jesus.

Holy Week culminates next Sunday with Easter Mass, also in St. Peter’s Square. Many faithful will remain in Rome, while others will pour into the city for the April 27 canonization of two popes, John Paul II and John XXIII.

Pope Francis noted that Pope John Paul’s long-time aide, now Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, had come to Rome.

The pontiff also noted he’ll be making a pilgrimage to South Korea this summer, with the key event, church World Youth Day celebrations on August 15 in Daejeon.

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Pope Francis has made his strongest condemnation yet of child abuse by Catholic clergy on Friday, asking for forgiveness and pledging to impose penalties on “men of the church”.

The statement, made in a meeting with a child rights group, is being described as his strongest the issue so far.

Last month, Pope Francis strongly defended the Roman Catholic Church’s record on tackling abuse by priests, following UN criticism.

Pope Francis said he felt responsible for the child abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church, and issued an unprecedented apology

Pope Francis said he felt responsible for the child abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church, and issued an unprecedented apology

The Pope set up a committee last year to organize help for victims of clerical abuse but has been accused by some Catholics of dragging his feet in acknowledging the extent of the moral and mental damage caused by paedophile priests.

He said that the number of priests who had committed abuses were “quite a few in number”, although “obviously not compared to the number of all the priests”.

“We will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed,” he said, adding: “We have to be even stronger”.

Alessandra Aula of International Catholic Child Bureau, the children’s non-governmental organization that was at the Vatican for the Pope’s address, welcomed his comments.

The Catholic Church has faced numerous allegations of child abuse by priests around the world and criticism over inadequate responses by bishops.

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President Barack Obama has met Pope Francis for the first time during a European tour dominated by the crisis in Ukraine.

Barack Obama flew into Rome after three days of talks with world leaders in the Netherlands and Brussels.

In a recent interview published before their meeting, Barack Obama described Pope Francis as a man who “lived the Christian Gospel”.

Barack Obama has met Pope Francis for the first time during his European tour

Barack Obama has met Pope Francis for the first time during his European tour

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Barack Obama has been inspired by Pope Francis’ messages of inclusion and equality.

Ben Rhodes said Barack Obama planned to express his appreciation for the pontiff’s leadership.

Barack Obama and Pope Francis have very different views on subjects such as abortion, contraception and gay marriage, but at this meeting they are likely to emphasize what they share.

After meeting the Pope, Barack Obama is due to meet both Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and PM Matteo Renzi.

Barack Obama is accompanied in Italy by Secretary of State John Kerry.

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Pope Francis has formally accepted the resignation of suspended Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the Vatican has announced in a statement on Wednesday.

The senior German Church leader has been suspended over his alleged lavish spending.

Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, has been accused of spending more than 31 million euros ($43 million) on renovating his official residence.

The cleric, dubbed the “bishop of bling” by the media, offered to resign when the scandal broke last October.

Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has been accused of spending more than 31 million euros on renovating his official residence

Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has been accused of spending more than 31 million euros on renovating his official residence

In response, Pope Francis temporarily suspended Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst and instructed a Church commission to investigate the matter.

Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed his disapproval of senior clerics whose lifestyles seem too lavish.

On Wednesday, the Vatican said the inquiry found that the senior cleric could no longer exercise his ministry.

The Church called on the diocese of Limburg to accept the decision “with docility” and to work toward restoring a “climate of charity and reconciliation”.

The Vatican did not further elaborate on the future of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, but said he would get a new position “at the opportune time”.

Auxiliary Bishop Manfred Grothe has been appointed to run the Limburg diocese.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst and his luxury lifestyle have become infamous in Germany, where many people pay a Church tax to the state. The tax raised 5.2 billion euros for Catholics and 4.6 billion euros for Protestants in 2012.

At the heart of the criticism was the refurbishment of the cleric’s official residence, originally set to cost 5.5 million euros.

German media reported that the quarters were fitted with a 15,000-euro bath, a conference table for 25,000 euros and a private chapel worth 2.9 million euros.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst was also under fire for a first-class flight to India to visit the poor.

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Pope Francis warned gangsters that they will go to hell unless they repent and stop doing evil as he is launching a stinging attack on the mafia.

“Blood-stained money, blood-stained power, you can’t bring it with you to your next life. Repent,” the pontiff said.

Pope Francis was speaking at a prayer vigil for relatives of those killed by the mafia.

The Pope has spoken out frequently about the evils of corruption and wrote a booklet on the subject in 2005 when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

The meeting near Rome on Friday – organized by a citizens’ group called Libera – was aimed at demonstrating the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to organized crime, rejecting historic ties with mafia bosses claiming to be good Catholics.

Pope Francis was speaking at a prayer vigil for relatives of those killed by the mafia

Pope Francis was speaking at a prayer vigil for relatives of those killed by the mafia

The vigil was filled with those who have suffered at the hands of the mafia, including people whose family members and loved ones had been killed.

As the names of those murdered were read out, the Pope listened, deep in somber thought.

After expressing solidarity with the 842 people at the vigil, he said that he could not leave the service without addressing those not present: The “protagonists” of mafia violence.

“This life that you live now won’t give you pleasure. It won’t give you joy or happiness,” he said.

“There’s still time to not end up in hell, which is what awaits you if you continue on this path.”

There is a long list of brave priests in Italy who have stood up to the mafia, and some have paid with lives.

Anti-mafia activists hope that Pope Francis’ words are a signal that he is on their side.

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The Vatican is celebrating Pope Francis’ first year in office.

The pontiff is currently on a week-long spiritual retreat with cardinals and bishops in the Alban Hills near Rome.

Italian opinion polls give Pope Francis the highest popularity rating of any recent pontiff.

Pope Francis is the first Latin American – and the first Jesuit – to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

Since taking office, pilgrims have been arriving in Rome in unprecedented numbers.

Pope Francis is also riding high on social media, with 11 million following him in nine languages on Twitter.

His approval rating has remained high despite a recent UN report accusing the Catholic Church of systematically covering up for tens of thousands of child-abusing priests reported to the Vatican.

Vatican is celebrating Pope Francis’ first year in office

Vatican is celebrating Pope Francis’ first year in office

The Pope himself has denounced any cult of personality.

He recently told Corriere della Sera: “Portraying the pope as a kind of superman, a type of star, it seems offensive.”

Pope Francis, 77, has appointed new advisers to help him run the Church and is planning major reforms of Vatican finances and of the scandal-hit Vatican bank.

For the moment there is no sign of a change in official Catholic teaching on artificial contraception or on the celibacy rule for priests.

However, the Pope’s compassionate attitude – especially his outreach to believers who have abandoned going to Mass and to divorced Catholics banned from receiving communion – is not universally admired by traditionalist cardinals.

Likewise his attitude towards gay people – Pope Francis says that he is not going to judge them – contrasts strongly with that of his predecessor Pope Benedict, who called homosexuality “intrinsically evil”.

Thursday’s anniversary is not being marked in any official way, a move that Vatican-watchers say is in keeping with the Pope’s tendency to eschew pomp and ceremony.

The decision to celebrate the anniversary quietly is a sound alternative to what almost certainly would have been a media frenzy if Pope Francis had decided to mark the anniversary in public, correspondents say.

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A recent Pew Research Center poll has found that 40% of American Catholics are praying more often than they did a year ago.

As Pope Francis wraps up his first year in the Vatican, analysts say the survey’s findings could be explained by what is called the “Francis Effect”.

The “Francis Effect” is the impact of a very popular pope with the common touch who isn’t afraid to shake things up.

Although Pope Francis has an average approval rating from his constituency that any US presidents would envy, it’s not fully clear how much the former Argentinian archbishop is influencing Catholic behavior.

Pope Francis has an average approval rating from his constituency that any US presidents would envy

Pope Francis has an average approval rating from his constituency that any US presidents would envy

“We’re not seeing any increase in the number of people who identify as Catholics. There is no increase in the frequency with which Catholics say they go to church. People are not going to confession or volunteering more often,” said Greg Smith, director of religion surveys for the Pew Research Center.

At the same time, pollsters did detect pockets of growing enthusiasm, especially among the most committed Catholics.

“One in four tells us they’re more excited about their faith in the last year. Four out of 10 say they’re praying more often. And one in five say they have been reading the Bible or other religious materials more often,” Greg Smith said.

Since he succeeded conservative Pope Benedict last March, Pope Francis has been heralded as a breath of fresh air: down-to-earth and focused on the downtrodden.

Pope Francis inspired the Twitter hashtag #bestpopeever — but the Pew data reveals he’s not actually the most-liked man to occupy the throne of St. Peter in modern times.

Eighty-five percent of American Catholics have a favorable opinion of Pope Francis, substantially higher than Pope Benedict’s 75% rating but still lower than the 93% that John Paul II basked in during the 1990s.

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President Vladimir Putin has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize despite escalating tensions over sending Russian troops to Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Pope Francis, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban, are also on the list.

A record 278 candidates, including 47 organizations, have received nominations for this year’s prize, the Norwegian Nobel Institute’s director Geir Lundestad said.

Committee members met Tuesday to add their own suggestions. They focused on recent turmoil around the globe, including the crisis in Ukraine.

Russia seized control of Crimea after Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted on February 22. It has led to the most serious confrontation between Moscow and the West since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Vladimir Putin has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize despite escalating tensions over sending Russian troops to Ukraine’s Crimea region

Vladimir Putin has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize despite escalating tensions over sending Russian troops to Ukraine’s Crimea region

Geir Lundestad said: “Part of the purpose of the committee’s first meeting is to take into account recent events, and committee members try to anticipate what could be the potential developments in political hotspots.”

Malala Yousafzai, 16, who was shot int e head by the Taliban for campaigning for equal education rights for girls, and Russian dissidents who have spoken out over human rights are also believed to be among the candidates.

The list of nominees also includes Pope Francis and Edward Snowden.

Conflicts between protesters and the governments of Thailand and Venezuela are also expected to be debated by the committee.

“We are getting an increasing number of nominations from people in countries that have never submitted nominations before,” Geir Lundestad said.

The nominations are kept secret for half a century but thousands of people can propose candidates, including members of national assemblies, and many make their choices public.

The committee reduced its list of potential winners to between 25 and 40 on Tuesday and will create a shortlist of about 12 names by the end of April.

The Nobel Peace Prize was first awarded in 1901.

The prize includes 8 million Swedish crowns ($1.15 million) in cash.

Nobel Peace Prize winner will be announced on the second Friday of October and the prize will be presented on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.

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Russell Crowe has launched a campaign to have his new Biblical epic Noah screened for Pope Francis.

Russell Crowe plays the title role in Darren Aronofsky’s new film, which is based on the Bible story of Noah and his ark.

The actor wants to make sure Pope Francis sees the movie and he has launched a campaign on Twitter in a bid to arrange a screening for the pontiff, tweeting his official account and urging fans to re-post his messages.

Russell Crowe has launched a campaign to have his new Biblical epic Noah screened for Pope Francis

Russell Crowe has launched a campaign to have his new Biblical epic Noah screened for Pope Francis

Russell Crowe wrote: “Dear Holy Father… Noah film. Screening? The message of the film is powerful, fascinating, resonant… Villagers, given his environmental focus/scholarly knowledge, trying to screen <<Noah>> for Pope Francis… You help? retweet previous.”

Noah will hit cinemas next month.

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Pope Francis has appointed 19 new cardinals at a ceremony in Rome – the first such appointments of his papacy.

Cardinals are the most senior Roman Catholic clergymen below the pontiff.

The new cardinals received the traditional red hat and robes at the ceremony, known as a consistory, which was conducted in Latin and followed ancient tradition.

Cardinals wear red robes, along with scarlet zucchetto and biretta

Cardinals wear red robes, along with scarlet zucchetto and biretta

Cardinals wear red robes, along with scarlet zucchetto (skullcap) and biretta (four cornered hat with tassel).

Red signifies the color of blood and symbolizes their commitment to defend the church.

During daily business, a cardinal’s robes are edged with red to signify his dignity and respect.

On official occasions, the cardinal’s robes are entirely red.

Pope Francis has appointed 19 new cardinals at St Peter’s Basilica ceremony in Rome.

This is the first such appointments of Pope Francis’ papacy.

Cardinals are the most senior Roman Catholic clergymen below the pontiff.

Correspondents say the inclusion of prelates from places such as Haiti and Burkina Faso reflects the Argentine Pope’s commitment to the poor.

Former Pope Benedict XVI – who retired last year – also attended the ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica.

The new cardinals received the traditional red hat and robes at the ceremony, known as a consistory, which was conducted in Latin and followed ancient tradition.

Pope Francis has appointed 19 new cardinals at St Peter's Basilica ceremony

Pope Francis has appointed 19 new cardinals at St Peter’s Basilica ceremony

One by one, the cardinals knelt in front of Pope Francis to receive the hat and gold ring of office.

Mindful of current conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and the Central African Republic, Pope Francis prayed for “peace and reconciliation for people currently experiencing violence and war”.

Sixteen of the new appointees are under 80 – the age limit for participating in the election of future popes.

The new cardinals come from 15 different countries, including Spain, Italy and Germany.

Pope Francis is encouraging cardinals – old and new – to think outside the box in formulating new policies for the Catholic Church.

The new cardinals will join the more than 100-strong College of Cardinals, which has been meeting in plenary session behind closed doors at the Vatican.

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Pope Francis’ Harley-Davidson has been sold for 210,000 euros ($284,000) at Bonhams auction in Paris.

The motorbike was auctioned to raise money for a charity for the homeless in Rome.

It was sold to an anonymous phone bidder.

The 1,585cc Dyna Super Glide was signed, but apparently never ridden by the pontiff.

Pope Francis’ Harley-Davidson has been sold for 210,000 euros at Bonhams auction in Paris

Pope Francis’ Harley-Davidson has been sold for 210,000 euros at Bonhams auction in Paris

The motorbike was given to Pope Francis in June, to mark Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary.

The reserve price was a modest 12,000 euros, but Ben Walker, from auction house Bonhams, hinted before the auction that it could sell for more than that.

There were so many bidders there were not enough phone lines to cope and some potential buyers were turned away.

A leather jacket which accompanied the motorbike also sold for 50,000 euros.

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Steve Coogan and Philomena Lee, whose story inspired the Oscar-nominated film Philomena, have met Pope Francis in Rome.

Steve Coogan, who starred in, co-wrote and co-produced the film, will take part in a press conference with Philomena Lee in Rome on Thursday.

They are campaigning for the release of 60,000 adoption files held by the Irish state, churches and private agencies.

The film tells the story of Philomena Lee’s search for her adopted son.

As an unmarried mother in Ireland in the 1950s, Philomena Lee was put into a convent as a “fallen woman” and forced to give up her three-year-old son.

“I am honored and delighted to have been in the presence of Pope Francis today,” Philomena Lee said in a statement.

Steve Coogan and Philomena Lee, whose story inspired the Oscar-nominated film Philomena, have met Pope Francis in Rome

Steve Coogan and Philomena Lee, whose story inspired the Oscar-nominated film Philomena, have met Pope Francis in Rome

“As the film portrays, I have always put great faith in the church and the good will to put the wrongs of the past right.

“I hope and believe that his Holiness Pope Francis joins me in the fight to help the thousands of mothers and children who need closure on their own stories.”

Pope Francis holds a general audience in the Vatican every Wednesday.

Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane recently launched The Philomena Project to help reunite families separated by adoption.

At present, adopted children who are trying to find their biological parents in Ireland are not permitted to see documents containing information on the identities of parents and children.

Adoption was sometimes forced upon single mothers due to the stigma of having a child outside marriage.

Philomena Lee’s story was told in a book by former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith, and his book was adapted for the screen by Steve Coogan.

Philomena has four Oscar nominations, including best picture, best actress for Judi Dench and best adapted screenplay for Steve Coogan and co-writer Jeff Pope.

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Two white doves released by Pope Francis and two children in Vatican City as a peace gesture have been attacked by a seagull and a crow.

The birds swept down on the doves after they were set free from the Apostolic Palace during the Pope’s weekly Angelus prayer.

Two white doves released by Pope Francis and two children in Vatican City as a peace gesture have been attacked by a seagull and a crow

Two white doves released by Pope Francis and two children in Vatican City as a peace gesture have been attacked by a seagull and a crow

Tens of thousands of people watched as one dove struggled to break free.

The crow pecked repeatedly at the other dove. It is not clear what happened to the doves that flew away.

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President Francois Hollande has met Pope Francis at the Vatican on his first foreign visit since reports of his alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet.

A Vatican statement said Francois Hollande and Pope Francis’ talks covered the family, bioethics and respect for religious communities.

France is planning to amend its laws on abortion and assisted suicide.

Francois Hollande’s partner, Valerie Trierweiler, spent a week in hospital amid claims he had been having an affair with Julie Gayet.

Julie Gayet has announced she is suing Closer magazine, which published the original reports, for breach of privacy.

Valerie Trierweiler, meanwhile, is travelling to India on Sunday in support of the work of the French charity Action Against Hunger.

On Thursday she sacked her lawyer for saying she was seeking to end her relationship withFrancois Hollande “with the greatest possible dignity”.

Valerie Trierweiler told the Europe 1 radio network she “felt betrayed”.

Francois Hollande has met Pope Francis at the Vatican on his first foreign visit since reports of his alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet

Francois Hollande has met Pope Francis at the Vatican on his first foreign visit since reports of his alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet

Speaking after their meeting, Francois Hollande said he had asked the Pope if the Vatican would receive a delegation from one of Syria’s main opposition groups, the National Council.

Talks aimed at ending the three-year-old Syrian conflict are under way in Switzerland.

“We need to do everything to stop the fighting and dispatch humanitarian aid,” Francois  Hollande said.

Hours before Francois Hollande arrived in Rome, a small bomb exploded outside the offices of a French foundation near the Vatican. No-one was injured, police said, but three parked cars were damaged.

In addition to his alleged affair with Julie Gayet, Francois Hollande and Valerie Trierweiler have never married – a further irritant to Catholic traditionalists.

Francois Hollande has refused to state whether Valerie Trierweiler remains his official partner and the first lady of France. The president has promised to clarify the situation before he makes a state visit to Washington next month.

He also has four children with his previous partner, Segolene Royal.

Relations between the Catholic Church and Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party have also been strained at a policy level.

The French National Assembly on Tuesday voted to strengthen the right to abortion and is considering a bill on assisted suicide.

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President Barack Obama will visit Pope Francis on a European tour in March, the White House has announced.

The White House said Barack Obama looked forward to discussing their “shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality”.

While in Rome, Barack Obama will meet Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and PM Enrico Letta.

Barack Obama will visit the Netherlands for a nuclear security summit, and will meet NATO and Belgian officials in Belgium.

Barack Obama will visit Pope Francis on a European tour in March

Barack Obama will visit Pope Francis on a European tour in March

Among those Barack Obama is scheduled to meet is Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the White House said.

The president’s visit to Belgium will include his first official trip to two EU institutions – the European Council and the European Commission.

Barack Obama quoted Pope Francis in a speech about income inequality on December. The March visit will be the first meeting between the two men.

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Pope Francis’ Harley-Davidson motorcycle will be sold at a Paris auction to help raise funds for a soup kitchen and hostel for Rome’s homeless.

The motorcycle, which was donated to Pope Francis last year, is signed by the pontiff on its tank.

Pope Francis got his own leather jacket and two bikes from the Harley-Davidson company

Pope Francis got his own leather jacket and two bikes from the Harley-Davidson company

The Bonhams auction house noted Pope Francis’ “preference for modest modes of transport” in a statement Monday.

It says it will also be auctioning off on February 6 a Harley-Davidson 110th anniversary leather motorcycle jacket, size XL, signed by Pope Francis.

The auction sales will raise money for Caritas Roma, a Catholic charity based in Rome.

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