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The Vatican has ruled that bread used to celebrate the Eucharist during Roman Catholic Mass must not be gluten-free – although it may be made from genetically modified organisms.

In a letter to bishops, Cardinal Robert Sarah said the bread can be low-gluten.

However, the cardinal said there must be enough protein in the wheat to make it without additives.

Image source Wikimedia

The new Vatican rules are needed because the bread is now sold in supermarkets and on the internet, the cardinal said.

Roman Catholics believe bread and wine served at the Eucharist are converted into the body and blood of Christ through a process known as transubstantiation.

Cardinal Robert Sarah of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said the wine used must also be “natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances”.

The Vatican letter said that the ruling was issued at the request of Pope Francis.

There are about 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world.

Venezuela’s opposition parties and the government are meeting for the first time this year to try to resolve the country’s deep political crisis.

President Nicolas Maduro is attending the talks, which are being supervised by a Vatican envoy and other mediators.

Opposition is demanding a referendum be allowed to take place on whether Nicolas Maduro should step down.

For its part, the government wants the opposition to renounce violence and reject right-wing economic policies.

The meeting, at a museum in Caracas, follows a general strike and huge opposition rallies.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

Nicolas Maduro shook hands with the five opposition leaders who including Jesus Torrealba, the leader of the Democratic Unity coalition.


Vatican envoy Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli urged both sides to engage in serious dialogue to defuse the mounting political crisis.

“The Pope is following the situation of this country very closely and hopes this process can continue peacefully,” he said.

Former political leaders from Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic are also helping to mediate.

On October 28, opposition leaders in Venezuela organized a general strike to push for a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro from power.

Many shops, businesses and schools stayed closed but adherence to the strike was patchy and poorer areas largely ignored it.

Hundreds of thousands of people rallied against Nicolas Maduro on October 26, angered that a recall referendum process – an attempt to remove Maduro from power – had been suspended.

Opposition activists had gathered about 1.8 million signatures petitioning for the referendum, 400,000 of which were validated by electoral authorities.

Supporters of Nicolas Maduro have also taken to the streets.

The government and opposition are at loggerheads over Venezuela’s dire economic problems which have led to food shortages, lack of medical supplies and regular power cuts.

The inflation rate, already the world’s highest, is expected to spiral even further in 2017.

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In a surprise move, Venezuela opposition and the government are to meet for crisis talks, the Vatican says, after an intervention from Pope Francis.

Protests have been held in recent days over the suspension of a referendum process seeking to remove President Nicolas Maduro.

The move came after Nicolas Maduro met Pope Francis in an unannounced visit.

The Vatican and regional bloc Unasur will mediate in the talks.

Pope Francis “urged [the parties] to show courage in pursuing the path of sincere and constructive dialogue”, the Vatican said in a statement.Leopoldo Lopez jailed in Venezuela

After meeting representatives from both sides, the Vatican’s envoy to Argentina, Emil Paul Tscherrig, said “a national dialogue” had already started.

He said they had agreed to formal talks on Sunday on Margarita island in the Caribbean.

Nicolas Maduro said “at last” dialogue could begin.

The head of the opposition coalition, Jesus Torrealba, who met Emil Paul Tscherrig, said while talks were important “it can’t continue to be a strategy for the government to win time”.

Another top opposition figure, Henrique Capriles, dismissed the announcement as a diversionary ploy.

“No dialogue has begun in Venezuela,” he said.

Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, is blamed by the opposition for Venezuela’s dire economic situation. The oil-rich country is facing widespread food shortages and spiraling inflation.

The opposition is trying to hold a recall referendum that would allow Nicolas Maduro to be removed from office but electoral authorities suspended the process last week.

The official reason was allegations of fraud during the gathering of signatures for the first petition required to enable the referendum.

However, opposition lawmakers have long accused the National Electoral Council of being under the government’s control.

In an emergency session of the National Assembly on October 23, they approved a resolution accusing Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist government of engaging in “an ongoing coup d’etat”.

The Organization of American States also said it was “profoundly worried” by the electoral authorities’ decision.

Hundreds of students protested on October 24 in San Cristobal, a city near the Colombian border. Nationwide protests are planned for October 26.

Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of having links to foreign states, the US in particular, and of seeking to overthrow him to “lay their hands on Venezuela’s oil riches”.

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Mother Teresa has been declared a saint by Pope Francis in a ceremony at the Vatican.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims had arrived at the St Peter’s Square for the Mass and canonization.

Two miraculous cures of the sick after Mother Teresa’s death in 1997 have been attributed to her intercession.

In 2002, the Vatican ruled that an Indian woman’s stomach tumor had been miraculously cured after prayers to Mother Teresa.

Pope Francis cleared the way for sainthood last year when he recognized a second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa.

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

Meanwhile in India, a special Mass was celebrated at the Missionaries of Charity, the order Mother Teresa founded in Kolkata (Calcutta).

Many pilgrims arrived at the Vatican before dawn on September 4 to get a good spot among the masses for the ceremony.

Cardinal Angelo Amato read a brief biography of the nun’s work, then asked the Pope to canonize her in the name of the Church.

The pontiff responded: “After due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint and we enroll her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”

Hundreds of Missionaries of Charity sisters attended the event, along with 13 heads of state or government.

Some 1,500 homeless people across Italy were also brought to Rome in buses to be given seats of honor at the celebration – and then a pizza lunch served by 250 nuns and priests of the Sisters of Charity order.

Large TV screens were set up at Mother House in Kolkata for the Vatican ceremony.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa founded a sisterhood that runs 19 homes.

She died in 1997 at the age of 87 and was beatified in 2003, the first step to sainthood.

Her work complements Francis’ vision of a Church that serves the underprivileged.

Mother Teresa’s canonization is a centerpiece of his Jubilee Year of Mercy.

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Mother Teresa is to be declared a saint at a ceremony in the Vatican on September 4.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the ceremony led by Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square.

Two miraculous cures of the sick after Mother Teresa’s death in 1997 have been attributed to her intercession.

Mother Teresa was famous for working with the desperately poor in India.

In India, there will be ceremonies at the Missionaries of Charity, the order the Nobel Peace Prize winner founded in Kolkata (Calcutta).

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass and Canonization in St Peter’s Square at 10:30 local time.

Many pilgrims arrived at the Vatican before dawn on September 4 to get a good spot for the Mass.

Some 1,500 homeless people across Italy are also being brought to Rome in buses to be given seats of honor at the celebration – and then a pizza lunch served by 250 nuns and priests of the Sisters of Charity order.

Mother Teresa founded a sisterhood that runs 19 homes.

However, Mother Teresa was not without her critics, as some people noted a lack of hygiene in the hospitals run by her sisterhood, and said she accepted money from dictators for her charity work.

Mother Teresa died in 1997 at the age of 87 and was beatified in 2003, the first step to sainthood.

In 2002, the Vatican ruled that an Indian woman’s stomach tumor had been miraculously cured after prayers to Mother Teresa.

Pope Francis cleared the way for sainthood in 2015 when he recognized a second miracle attributed to the nun.

Born in 1910 to ethnic Albanian parents as Agnese Gonxha Bojaxhiu, she grew up in what is now the Macedonian capital, Skopje, but was then part of the Ottoman Empire.

At the age of 19, she joined the Irish order of Loreto and in 1929 was sent to India, where she taught at a school in Darjeeling under the name of Therese.

In 1946 she moved to Kolkata to help the destitute and, after a decade, set up a hospice and a home for abandoned children.

Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. The sisterhood now has 4,500 nuns worldwide.

She achieved worldwide acclaim for her work in Kolkata’s slums, but her critics accused her of pushing a hard-line Catholicism, mixing with dictators and accepting funds from them for her charity.

It often takes decades for people to reach sainthood after their death, but beatification was rushed through by Pope John Paul II.

Pope Francis was known to be keen to complete the process during the Church’s Holy Year of Mercy, which runs to November 2016.

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Twelve Syrian refugees have been taken to the Vatican by Pope Francis after visiting a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

The three families, including six children, are all Muslim and had their homes bombed during the Syrian war.

According to a Vatican statement, Pope Francis wanted to “make a gesture of welcome” to the refugees.

Thousands of migrants are now stuck on Lesbos after last month’s EU-Turkey deal to try to ease the flow.Pope Francis refugees Lesbos

All of those leaving with Pope Francis were already living on Lesbos before the deal was implemented, the Vatican said.

They were reportedly selected from lots drawn, and will be looked after initially by the Sant’Egidio community, known for their charity work.

Under the EU-Turkey agreement, refugees arriving illegally on the Greek islands from Turkey after March will be deported unless they successfully claim for asylum.

In return, for every Syrian returned to Turkey, the EU will take another Syrian directly from Turkey.

Pope Francis earlier told migrants living in the Moria camp – some of whom are facing being sent back – “you are not alone”.

About 3,000 people are being held in the camp on Lesbos, some of whom lined the streets with banners pleading for help as Pope Francis arrived.

Some wept, others threw themselves at his feet or chanted “freedom”.

In his speech, Pope Francis acknowledged “the great sacrifice” the people in the camp had made, saying he wanted to “draw the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis”.

The pontiff told the camp’s residents: “Do not lose hope. The greatest gift we can offer to one another is love.”

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, who also met Pope Francis, said the visit “sends a message that surpasses Greece’s and Europe’s borders”.

The Vatican has stressed the Pope’s visit was purely humanitarian and religious in nature and should not be seen as a criticism of the deportations.

In September, Pope Francis made space in the Vatican apartments for two refugee families, urging Catholics across Europe to play their part to resolve the crisis.

Bernie Sanders has been invited to the Vatican by Pope Francis, his campaign announced.

The Vermont senator and Democratic presidential hopeful, who is Jewish, accepted an invitation to Rome for a conference at the end of next week.

Bernie Sanders’ visit to the Vatican is four days before the primary contest in New York, a competitive battle between him and front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

The Democratic presidential hopeful said he was not sure whether he would meet Pope Francis but he was a big fan of the pontiff.

Bernie Sanders said they share the same views on inequality: “He’s trying to inject this sense of morality into how we do economics… and we need that absolutely desperately.”

He will attend a conference on social, economic and environmental issues and give a speech on April 15, his campaign said.

Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis have similar views on fighting income inequality and he was “very moved” by the invitation from the Vatican.

He said he and the pope disagree on women’s rights and gay rights, but Pope Francis has “injected a moral consequence into the economy”.

Bernie Sanders is trailing Hillary Clinton but gaining momentum after a string of wins, most recently in the Wisconsin primary.

In the last few days, a mostly civil fight between the two became more personal as Bernie Sanders accused Hillary Clinton of not being “qualified” to be president.

Pope Francis said on April 8 that the Catholic Church should be less strict and show more compassion to “imperfect” Catholics.

The pontiff called on the Church to be welcoming to gay Catholics but did not change the Church’s views on LGBT families and marriage.

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Pope Francis has called on Christians not to let fear and pessimism “imprison” them as he delivered his Easter message.

Speaking amid tight security at the Vatican, Pope Francis said: “Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control our hearts.”

The Pope’s message followed a condemnation on March 25 of the Brussels terror attacks.

Islamist violence is expected to be a prominent theme of his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Easter message.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

Many pilgrims cancelled their planned trips to Rome in the wake of the violence in Brussels, but St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican was packed when Pope Francis celebrated mass on March 26.

Pope Francis entered a darkened basilica with just a single candle guiding him. As he reached the altar, the basilica’s floodlights came on to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Delivering his homily, Pope Francis said: “Today is the celebration of our hope. It is so necessary today.”

The lengthy vigil service also included a papal baptism for 12 adults hailing from China, South Korea and other countries around the world.

On Easter Day, Francis will preside over Easter Mass and offer his annual Easter blessing.

On March 25, he denounced the “terrorist acts committed by followers of some religions which profane the name of God and which use the holy name to justify their unprecedented violence”.

Meanwhile, Vatican officials distributed sleeping bags to 100 homeless people.

The police presence in the streets around the Vatican has been stepped up this year, as more pilgrims than usual are expected after Pope Francis declared a jubilee year for the Catholic Church, calling it a “Holy Year of Mercy”.

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Pope Francis has welcomed several thousand refugees in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican as the Catholic Church marked a day dedicated to them.

He said the refugees carried within themselves “a history, a culture, precious values” and urged them not to give up hope.

The refugees – including many asylum seekers – waved their nations’ flags during the address.

Europe is struggling to cope with an influx of refugees.Refugees at Vatican

Pope Francis has repeatedly called on European states to welcome people fleeing war and poverty.

Later the pontiff became only the third pope to visit Rome’s main synagogue.

Hundreds of armed police and security personnel were deployed for the occasion.

Rome’s chief rabbi, Ricardo Di Segri, has said the visit is considered as a sign of 50 years of improving Jewish-Catholic relations.

In December, the Vatican said that the Roman Catholic Church did not support efforts to convert Jews to Christianity.

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A second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa has been recognized by Pope Francis, clearing the way for the Roman Catholic nun to be made a saint in 2016.

The miracle involved the inexplicable healing of a Brazilian man with multiple brain tumors, a report in the Avvenire newspaper of the Italian Catholic Bishop’s Conference said.

Mother Teresa was beatified – the first step towards sainthood – in 2003.

In 1979, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the poor.

Mother Teresa died in Calcutta, India, on September 5, 1997.

She is celebrated for her work in the slums of Indian city of Kolkata (Calcutta).

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

The Avvenire report said that she is expected to be canonized in Rome in September.

Beatification requires one miracle by the Catholic Church, while the process of becoming recognized as a saint requires proof of at least two miracles.

Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 after Pope John Paul II accepted as authentic a miracle attributed to the nun.

Pope John Paul II judged that the curing of an Indian woman suffering from an abdominal tumor was the result of the supernatural intervention of Mother Teresa with God – a claim challenged by Indian rationalists.

Born Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Uskup (now Skopje), Macedonia, in 1910, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1949, dedicating her life to caring for impoverished and sick people in Kolkata.

Known as the “saint of the gutter”, she earned worldwide acclaim for her efforts.

Mother Teresa and her helpers built homes for orphans, nursing homes for lepers and hospices for the terminally ill in Calcutta. Mother Teresa’s organization also engaged in aid work in other parts of the world.

The modest nun became known all over the world, and money poured in. But she was also criticized. It was alleged that dying people in the hospices were refused pain relief, whereas Mother Teresa herself accepted hospital treatment.

Mother Teresa also held a conservative view on abortion. She was regarded as a spokesperson for the Vatican.

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Pope Francis has opened the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome to launch the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy.

Tens of thousands attended a Mass in St Peter’s Square for the start of Pope Francis’ “revolution of tenderness”.

The Mass took place amid tight security with extra police and soldiers deployed, and a no-fly zone imposed.

Under the year’s theme of mercy, Pope Francis has said priests can absolve women who have had abortions.

During the jubilee celebrations, one of the most important events in the Roman Catholic Church, pilgrims travel to Rome and religious sites around the world.

At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis opened the huge bronze Holy Door. He said that by passing through it, Catholics should take on the role of the Good Samaritan.

It is the first time the Holy Door has been opened since the Great Jubilee in the 2000 called for by St John Paul II. It has been bricked up since then.

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, 88, also attended today’s event.Pope Francis opens Holy Door 2015

Italian security forces are on high alert following recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

Visitors to St Peter’s Square had to pass through metal detectors and undergo bag and body checks.

Announcing the extraordinary jubilee in March, Pope Francis said the Holy Door was a “Door of Mercy, through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope”.

For the first time, the pontiff has instructed churches and cathedrals to take part in the tradition of the Holy Door, to help Catholics mark the jubilee at home rather than coming to Rome.

Pope Francis has long signaled his wish to change the Church’s approach from condemnation of wrongdoing to a Church that is more forgiving and understanding of its flock.

This extraordinary jubilee year is seen as a practical way of giving expression to that wish.

Pope Francis took many by surprise when he announced in September that, as part of the jubilee, parish priests across the world would be allowed to absolve repentant women who asked for forgiveness for having an abortion, even though Church teaching still terms abortion a grave sin.

What Are Jubilee Years?

Jubilee years are rooted in the Old Testament tradition of freeing slaves and prisoners once every 50 years, a concept that died out within Judaism but was taken up by Pope Boniface VIII for the Catholic Church in 1300.

Pilgrimages to Rome were at the heart of the original jubilee years, and attracted hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to the city, many willing to pay for “indulgences” – the eradication by the Church of the spiritual debt arising from sin.

It was a tradition that not only contributed copious cash to the Vatican’s coffers, but also contributed to the theological turmoil that led to the establishment of rival Protestant churches across much of northern Europe.

The last Jubilee was called by St John Paul II to mark the millennium, and this Holy Year of Mercy starts on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2015, and will end on the Feast of Christ the King on November 20, 2016.

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Five people, including two journalists and a top priest or monsignor, have been charged by the Vatican over the leaking and publication of secret documents.

The leaked documents were cited in two books, by journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi, alleging misspending and corruption at the Vatican.

The journalists deny claims that they exerted pressure to obtain information.

Two members of a papal commission advising on economic reform, and an assistant, were also charged.

Monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda, and fellow commission member, public relations expert Francesca Chaouqui, were arrested early in November.

Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi and Avarice by Emiliano Fittipaldi, included details of alleged corruption, theft and uncontrolled spending in the Vatican.

In a statement, the Holy See said magistrates “notified the accused and their lawyers of the charges filed… for the unlawful disclosure of information and confidential documents”.

Francesca Chaouqui was released shortly after her arrest after pledging to co-operate with authorities. Monsignor Lucio Valejo Balda remains in a Vatican cell.Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi Vatican leaks scandal

Both, along with assistant Nicola Maio, are accused of forming “a brotherhood of crime” and stealing documents, the Vatican said.

The two journalists have been charged with exerting pressure to obtain the information.

Emiliano Fittipaldi told local media he was “stunned” by the decision.

“Maybe I’m naive but I believed they would investigate those I denounced for criminal activity, not the person that revealed the crimes,” he said.

“I understand they are seriously embarrassed in the Vatican over the things in my book, especially because they could not deny any of it. But I didn’t expect a criminal trial.”

Gianluigi Nuzzi told Reuters he had “never applied pressure on anyone”. He will discuss whether to attend a November 24 hearing with his lawyers.

Reporters without Borders issued a statement saying the journalists had “just exercised their right to provide information in the public interest and should not be treated as criminals in a country that supposedly respects media freedom”.

If convicted, all five could be jailed for up to eight years.

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The Vatican has strongly denied an Italian media reports that Pope Francis has a small but curable tumor on his brain.

Italian newspaper Quotidiano said Pope Francis had travelled by helicopter to Tuscany to see a world-renowned Japanese brain surgeon.

The pontiff was diagnosed with a small, dark spot but did not need surgery, the paper said.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the report was totally unfounded.

“As everyone can see, the Pope is carrying out his extremely intense activities in an absolutely normal manner,” he said.

The newspaper insisted that its story was true, maintaining that Pope Francis, 78, had visited Prof. Takanori Fukushima some months ago at the San Rossore clinic in the Barbaricina area of Pisa.Pope Francis brain tumor rumors

The publication quoted an unnamed employee at the clinic saying such a small tumor could be treated and did not need any kind of surgical intervention.

Quotidiano’s editor, Andrea Cangini, said the denial was understandable and had been expected.

The timing of the report is seen as awkward for the Vatican, as 279 bishops from around the world approach the end of their three-week Synod on the Family.

The meeting, which ends on October 25, is considered one of the key tests of Pope Francis’s papacy as it has wrestled with the Church’s attitude towards same-gender unions, contraception and its refusal to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to take Communion.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis indicated his papacy may last only a few years, and that he might retire like his predecessor Benedict XVI, who stepped down as pontiff in 2013.

Pope Francis appeared before thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square as normal on October 21, and was due to return to the Synod later in the day.

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Vatican is going to make it easier for Roman Catholics to get annulments and remarry within the Church, Pope Francis’ new reforms have revealed.

The Catholic Church does not recognize divorce, teaching that marriage is forever.

In order to separate, Catholics must have their marriage annulled by showing it was flawed from the outset.

The radical reforms allow access to procedures free of charge and fast-track decisions, as well as removing automatic appeals.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Until now the procedures have been seen as arcane, expensive and bureaucratic.

Catholics seeking an annulment previously needed approval from two Church tribunals. The reforms will reduce this to one, although appeals will still be allowed.

The new fast-track procedure will allow bishops to grant annulments directly if both spouses request it.

Because annulment procedures are complicated, couples normally require experts to guide them through, meaning that gaining one can be expensive.

Without an annulment, Catholics who divorce and marry again are considered adulterers and are not allowed to receive communion.

In 2014, Pope Francis set up a commission of church lawyers and clerical experts to look at how to streamline the procedure.

Writing about the changes, Pope Francis said it was unfair that spouses should be “long oppressed by darkness of doubt” over whether their marriages could be annulled.

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Pope Francis has created a tribunal to hear cases of bishops accused of covering up child abuse by priests.

The unprecedented move followed a recommendation from Pope Francis’ newly-created panel on clerical abuse.Pope Francis creates child abuse tribunal

Victims’ groups have long called for the Vatican to do more to make bishops accountable for abuse on their watch.

In 2014, the UN strongly criticized the Vatican for failing to stamp out child abuse and for allowing cover-ups.

A statement from the Vatican said the department would come under the auspices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The tribunal’s aim would be “to judge bishops with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors”, the statement added.

The Vatican panel which recommended the step was created to help dioceses improve abuse prevention measures and help victims.

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The beatification of Oscar Romero, Latin America’s martyr and hero, is attracting hundreds of thousands of people at the El Salvador ceremony.

The Roman Catholic archbishop murdered during the 1980-1992 civil war.

At least 250,000 people are expected to fill the streets of the capital San Salvador for the ceremony.

It is the last step before Archbishop Oscar Romero is declared a saint.

Oscar Romero was shot dead by a sniper as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel on March 24, 1980. No-one has been prosecuted for the murder.Oscar Romero beatification 2015

About 80,000 people died and 12,000 disappeared during the war in El Salvador.

The Archbishop of San Salvador, Luis Escobar Alas, and Vatican envoy Cardinal Angelo Amato are expected to preside over Saturday’s beatification ceremony.

The event will begin with a procession from the cathedral – where Oscar Romero’s remains lie in a crypt.

A letter will then be read proclaiming the archbishop “blessed”.

Giant TV screens have been placed across the capital so that those away from the stage can watch the ceremony.

Thousands of police officers have also been deployed.

Archbishop Oscar Romero was not just a churchman. He took a stand during El Salvador’s darkest moments.

When the US-backed Salvadorean army was using death squads and torture to stop leftist revolutionaries from seizing power, Oscar Romero was not afraid to speak out in his weekly sermons.

“The law of God which says thou shalt not kill must come before any human order to kill. It is high time you recovered your conscience,” he said in his last homily in 1980, calling on the National Guard and police to stop the violence.

“I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression.”

That was a sermon that cost him his life. A day later, while giving mass, he was hit through the heart by a single bullet.

Several conservative Latin American cardinals in the Vatican had blocked his beatification for years because they were concerned his death was prompted more by his politics than by his preaching.

Pope Benedict XVI finally reversed this in 2012.

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Two 19th Century nuns, who lived in what was then Ottoman-ruled Palestine and were native Arabic speakers, will be canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday, May 17.

The nuns, Mariam Bawardy of Galilee and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas of Jerusalem, will be among four new saints declared in Rome’s St Peter’s Square.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and over 2,000 Christian pilgrims from the region will be present at the ceremony.

The move is seen as a token of Vatican support for dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East.

On May 16, Pope Francis met Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican.

Mahmoud Abbas’ visit came just days after the Vatican formally recognized Palestinian statehood in a treaty.Palestinian nuns Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas canonization

The treaty states that the Holy See favors a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel and allows the Vatican to oversee aspects of Roman Catholic life in the areas President Mahmoud Abbas controls.

Israel expressed disappointment with the treaty, which uses the term “Palestinian state”.

Mariam Bawardy was born in Galilee to Greek Catholic parents from Syria and Lebanon.

A mystic, she is said to have carried out many miracles and to have experienced stigmata – wounds representing those suffered by Jesus on the cross.

Marie Alphonsine Ghattas – who was born to a Palestinian family in Jerusalem – co-founded the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters, which today runs many kindergartens and schools.

Both nuns lived through tough conditions, overcoming male dominance in Ottoman society, poverty and ill-health while helping others.

They are said to have seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary and remained in close communication with her.

By granting these women sainthood, the Catholic Church is celebrating their good works but it is also showing support for Christians in the birthplace of their religion.

The total number of Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories has declined to less than 2% of the population.

This is partly because of growing Jewish and Muslim populations, but also because of the conflict and the chance of better opportunities abroad.

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The Vatican backs the use of military force to stop attacks on Christians and other Middle East minorities by Islamic State (ISIS) if no political solution is found.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s top diplomat at the UN in Geneva, said jihadists were committing “genocide” and must be stopped.

The Vatican traditionally opposes military intervention in the region.

However, Pope Francis decried the beheading in February of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIS in Libya.

The militants have targeted minority religious groups in the parts of Syria and Iraq under their control. Thousands more people have been forced to flee their homes.Vatican backs use of military force against ISIS

In an interview with US Catholic website Crux, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said: “What’s needed is a co-ordinated and well-thought-out coalition to do everything possible to achieve a political settlement without violence.

“But if that’s not possible, then the use of force will be necessary.”

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi added: “We have to stop this kind of genocide. Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t so something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”

Christians were the main target of ISIS attacks, the archbishop said, but all minorities were human beings whose rights had to be protected.

“Christians, Yazidis, Shias, Sunnis, Alawites, all are human beings whose rights deserve to be protected,” he said.

Any coalition, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said, must include Muslim states from the Middle East and be guided by the UN.

Crux said the archbishop’s endorsement of military action was “unusually blunt”.

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In a recent interview with Mexican television, marking the second anniversary of his election, Pope Francis has suggested he may resign his papacy like his predecessor, rather than remain at the Vatican for life.

“I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief. Four or five years; I do not know, even two or three,” the pontiff said.

Pope Francis praised Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step aside in 2013 as “courageous”.

“Benedict should not be considered an exception, but an institution. Maybe he will be the only one for a long time, maybe he will not be the only one.

“But an institutional door has been opened,” Pope Francis told the Televisa channel.Pope Francis may resign

Pope Francis has hinted in the past that he could retire, but said he was opposed to the idea of an age limit for leaders of the Catholic Church.

“To say that one is in charge up to 80 years, creates a sensation that the pontificate is at its end and that would not be a good thing,” he added.

A papal conclave elected Pope Francis as Benedict XVI’s successor on March 13, 2013. He became the first Latin American to lead the Church.

During the interview Pope Francis admitted he was “surprised” by the decision and had only carried a small suitcase to Rome, with the expectation he would return to Buenos Aires.

His simple style has won him praise from Catholics, as have his promises to reform the Curia – the Church’s internal government.

However, he said two years of his papacy had now passed and he felt it would not continue for very much longer.

“I do not know. But I feel that the Lord has placed me here for a short time, and nothing more,” he added.

“But it is a feeling. I always leave the possibility open.”

Pope Francis told Televisa that he “did not mind being Pope”, but missed the anonymity associated with life as a priest.

“The only thing I would like is to go out one day, without being recognised, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”

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Twenty new cardinals have been named by Pope Francis, including churchmen from Tonga, Ethiopia and Myanmar.

Fifteen of the new appointees are under 80, making them eligible to enter a conclave to elect the Pope’s successor.

The pontiff said the appointment of cardinals from 14 countries from every continent in the world showed the Vatican’s “inseparable link” with Catholic Churches around the world.

They will be formally installed on February 14.

Pope Francis also announced on January 4 that he would lead of meeting of all cardinals to discuss reform of the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s administrative body, on February 12 and 13.

The list of names includes five retired bishops who will join the College of Cardinals but are over 80 and so cannot take part in a papal election.

It is the second time Pope Francis has announced the appointment of new cardinals from a wide variety of countries.

Last January Pope Francis named 19 new additions, including churchmen from Haiti and Burkina Faso, which a Vatican spokesman said reflected his commitment to the poor.

He has now chosen over a quarter of all cardinals able to vote for the next Pope.

With his appointments, Pope Francis appears to be trying to reflect the diversity and growth of the Church in developing nations.

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

Pope Francis wants to see an overhaul of the Church, bringing it closer to ordinary people.Pope Francis names new cardinals

List of new cardinals:

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti (France)

Archbishop Manuel Jose Macario do Nascimento Clemente (Portugal)

Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel (Ethiopia)

Archbishop John Atcherley Dew (New Zealand)

Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli (Italy)

Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon (Vietnam)

Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda (Mexico)

Archbishop Charles Maung Bo (Myanmar)

Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij (Thailand)

Archbishop Francesco Montenegro (Italy).

Archbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet (Uruguay)

Archbishop Ricardo Blazquez Perez (Spain).

Bishop Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan (Panama)

Bishop Arlindo Gomes Furtado, (Capo Verde).

Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafia (Tonga)

Archbishop emeritus Jose de Jesus Pimiento Rodríguez (Colombia)*

Titular Archbishop Luigi De Magistris (Italy)*

Titular Archbishop Karl-Joseph Rauber (Germany)*

Archbishop emeritus Luis Hector Villalba (Argentina)*

Bishop emeritus Julio Duarte Langa (Mozambique)*

* Cardinal emeritus, without voting rights

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Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot and injured former Pope John Paul II in 1981, has laid flowers on the late pontiff’s tomb in the Vatican.

The 56-year-old Turkish man told police he felt he needed to make the gesture, Italian media report.

The gunman’s gesture comes 31 years to the day that Pope John Paul II visited Mehmet Ali Agca in prison and forgave him for the attempt on his life.

Mehmet Ali Agca served 19 years in an Italian jail for shooting the Pope twice at close range. His motive remains a mystery.Mehmet Ali Agca Pope John Paul tomb

He spent another 10 years in prison in Turkey on charges related to the earlier murder of a newspaper editor.

Mehmet Ali Agca laid white roses at the tomb of the late Pope on December 27, in his first visit to the Vatican since his attack on John Paul II on May 13, 1981.

Pope John Paul II was left seriously injured, with one bullet passing through his abdomen and another narrowly missing his heart.

Vatican officials have for a second time denied Mehmet Ali Agca’s request for a face-to-face meeting with Pope Francis.

“He has put flowers on the tomb of John Paul II. I think that is enough,” the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, told La Repubblica newspaper.

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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 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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Vatican’s former ambassador to the Dominican Republic Jozef Wesolowski has been put under house arrest following allegations he abused young boys in the Caribbean country.

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski has already been defrocked after the Vatican’s canon law court found him guilty in June and imposed its toughest penalty: laicization, or returning to life as a layman.

Jozef Wesolowski was Vatican’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic

Jozef Wesolowski was Vatican’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic

On September 23, the Vatican’s separate criminal court opened a preliminary hearing into his case and ordered him placed under house arrest.

A Vatican statement said Jozef Wesolwski presented medical documentation detailing health concerns that prevented a more restrictive type of detention. The Vatican has a few small detention rooms inside its police barracks.

Jozef Wesolowski could face jail time if found guilty.

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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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