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Pope Francis made a private visit to the Italian hilltown of Greccio in the Lazio region north of Rome on Monday afternoon, where he met with the local Franciscan community.The town is well known as the place where, in December 1223, St. Francis set up the first crib scene, using local animals and a carved image of the Christ Child in a manger to recreate the events of Our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem.The tradition continues in the same hillside cave which has become a popular local shrine, and visitors can also see the monastic cell in the nearby convent where St Francis slept.During the brief visit Pope Francis spent a few moments in silent prayer at the shrine, visited the adjacent Church and had lunch with the local bishop Domenico Pompili. He also greeted a group of some 70 young people who were taking part in a pilgrimage to Greccio.
Leading United Nations officials have expressed regret over Saturdays’ mass execution of 47 people by Saudi Arabia and called on the country's authorities to commute all death sentences.  Among those executed on Jan. 2 is prominent Shiite opposition figure Sheik Nimr Al-Nimr, whose death has led to the collapse of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia, a Sunni kingdom and Shiite-dominated Iran.   "Sheik al-Nimr and a number of the other prisoners executed had been convicted following trials that raised serious concerns over the nature of the charges and the fairness of the process," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson said on Saturday in a statement, also deploring violence by demonstrators against the Saudi embassy in Tehran.  Shiite protesters took to the streets from Bahrain to Pakistan while ‎Arab allies of Saudi ‎Arabia quickly lined up behind the kingdom.‎  Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Ira...
Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith ushered in the new year celebrating Mass for the women ‎prisoners and their children in the country’s largest jail.  The cardinal who is Archbishop of Colombo, ‎celebrated the Mass in in the women’s ward of the Welikada prison in the suburbs of the capital, ‎organized by the prison chaplain, Fr Julian Patrick Perera, and the Sisters of the Holy Family.  The ‎inmates set up the hall for the Mass which was in Sinhalese, Tamil and English.  Later, the women ‎prisoners handed Card Ranjith some written requests urging him to intercede with the government on their ‎behalf to speed up trials and help have better contact with their children, so that they may soon return ‎to their families.   A woman noted some of them have been there for 10, 15 years, saying the ‎government would also gain saving on their expenses.   In his homily, Card Ranjith stressed that despite ‎thei...
(Vatican Radio)  In the spirit of Christmas  and New Year, the parish of the Indian Archdiocese of Bombay on Sunday regaled local street dwellers and their families with some pleasant moments of warmth and belonging away from the harsh realities of life on the pavement.  The Jan. 3 event at the Cathedral Parish of the Holy Name in the Fort area organized by the local St. Vincent ‎de Paul Society included games, snacks, lunch and ‎spot prizes.  The youngsters danced shouted and freaked out to Bollywood music with gay abandon, some of them exhibiting thier vocal talents. Cardinal Oswald Gracias who joined the party later, made the street dwellers feel at home, going about freely among the people, greeting and blessing them.  He led a general prayer, in Hindi, reminding everyone that Christ came into our world to bring peace, love and hope and that, as a family of brothers and sisters they celebrate it especially at Christmas. He prayed that the paren...
Catholics in ??Barisal, some 123 kilometers south of the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, "waited for a long time to have their own diocese. Now the pope has fulfilled their wish, and I shall do everything to take care of them,” said Auxiliary Bishop Lawrence Subrato Howlader of Chittagong, whom Pope Francis on Dec. 29 appointed the first bishop of the new Diocese of Barisal.  Barisal was created out of the Diocese of Chittagong. "The distance between Barisal and Chittagong was a huge barrier to our pastoral work. Now this barrier has been removed, and I give thanks to Almighty God for it," the Holy Cross bishop told AsiaNews.  With the new diocese, Bangladesh now has seven dioceses, all suffragans of Dhaka Metropolitan Archdiocese.  Barisal will border to the east with the mother Diocese of Chittagong and to west with the Diocese of Khulna.  Barisal’s St Peter’s Church will be the cathedral of the new diocese and St Peter the Apos...
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- By executing a senior Shiite cleric, Saudi Arabia effectively lit a match to set off regional sectarian tensions and its rivalry with Iran, threatening to derail already-shaky peace efforts over the wars in Syria and Yemen....
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Allies of Saudi Arabia followed the kingdom's lead Monday and scaled back diplomatic ties to Iran after the ransacking of Saudi diplomatic missions in the Islamic Republic, violence sparked by the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric....
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama defended his administration's plans to tighten the nation's gun-control restrictions without going through Congress, insisting Monday that the steps he'll announce fall within his legal authority and uphold the constitutional right to own a gun....
NEW YORK (AP) -- It was a gloomy start to the new year on Wall Street as stocks sank as part of a global sell-off....
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- For all its years of strife, Israel has rarely seen anything quite like this: an armed, wanted Arab killer on the loose, spreading fear across the land....
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