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from The Great Debate:

Tackling inequality: Where a president meets a pope

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There has been much speculation about President Barack Obama’s meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday. One Catholic church authority asserted, “it is not the task of the pope to offer a detailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality.” The pope got that message -- he wrote it himself in his first official “Papal Exhortation” last year.

Yet Francis has also asserted that his papacy has a “grave responsibility” to  “exhort all the communities to an ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times” -- particularly to know the face of the poor and outcast.

For the pope, this scrutiny must take in the fierce public debate about government cuts that now overshadows U.S. politics. The left and the right are battling over sharp reductions in foods stamps and unemployment benefits, denial of healthcare to those least able to afford it and cuts in many programs designed to help the poor and needy.

Francis has dedicated his papacy to helping those marginalized by harsh economic policies and personal setbacks. He advocates for a “poor church,” one that can give a voice to the voiceless. So poverty of all kinds will likely be an urgent topic when the pope and the president sit down.

from The Great Debate:

Pope Francis: Beyond the compelling gestures

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The most talked about person in the world -- no surprise there! -- is Pope Francis. Polls and Internet traffic confirm: No celebrity even comes close to him in fame or favor.

When it comes to “followers,” the pope does have an enormous head start, as leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church. He also inspires unmatched curiosity and attention globally among many millions from other faiths and no faiths.

from The Great Debate:

Why Fellini’s films speak to the pope

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La Strada may be almost 60 years old, but Federico Fellini's masterpiece is in the news. In an interview published late last week, Pope Francis called La Strada his favorite film.

Some might have expected a more church-friendly movie, like Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City -- which Fellini co-wrote -- about a priest helping the Italian Resistance fight Nazi occupiers during World War Two. While he also mentions it, the pontiff's favorite choice crystallizes his embrace of the fallible and the marginalized.

from The Human Impact:

Is the new Pope bad news for women?

As most of you probably know already, the newly-elected Pope Francis represents a lot of firsts: First Jesuit to become pope. First Latin American (or from the ‘New World’). First pope to take the name Francis.

I’m Italian I take a special interest in his election. He’s the new archbishop of Rome and – due to a long history of mingling between the Italian state and the Catholic Church, due to culture and religion – Italians tend to follow Papal elections with a particular, even if unwanted, attention.

from Photographers' Blog:

“I will show you the Pope”

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Rome, Italy

By Alessandro Bianchi

After what seemed like a lifetime of standing in the rain, "Habemus Papam" (We have a Pope!).

I woke up after basically not sleeping at all. Another day and now what? We had no idea what Pope Francis would do. Nobody knew. Only that he was due to attend a small prayer at the Santa Maria Maggiore - a basilica in central Rome. So, fellow photographer Stefano Rellandini and I got on our scooters and went to take a look. When we got there, there was a lot of people - media, tourists (the basilica is right next to the main train station), curious bystanders, and a big wall which surrounds the basilica. Stefano stayed with the pack outside the main entrance and I went for a little wander. How could I see above this wall? The only way was to go into a local school. I walked in, looked for the principle and said "Come with me I have something to show you. I will show you the Pope." He smiled and said "Okay let's see." I said, "I have to have this picture, or my boss will be very unhappy..."

from Thinking Global:

Making history at the Vatican

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I have covered far happier times for the Vatican. I reported on John Paul II’s pilgrimage through his native Poland some three decades ago, and I have been thinking about this while watching the Catholic Church’s 115 cardinal electors pray for divine inspiration on this historic day in Rome’s Sistine Chapel.

The cardinals will need every ounce of God’s help to determine who among them has the leadership and managerial wherewithal to both fix their scandal-ridden church and inspire a needy world. They can take some solace from the 1978 papal conclave held after John Paul I’s sudden death following just 33 days in office.

from India Insight:

A Twitter high five from the Pope? Maybe someday

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As a practising Catholic, I was eagerly waiting to read Pope Benedict XVI’s first tweets. I didn’t expect to be blown away by the first few, but interest was building on the Internet, and I was part of that. Not many in India or my home state of Goa seemed to care very much. Perhaps they didn’t even know that the Pope had joined Twitter. But the small step by Pope Benedict on Wednesday, marks a dramatic change in the way the Church communicates to its faithful.

No one expected the Vatican, usually conservative by nature, or the 85-year old Pontiff, to say anything path-breaking or revolutionary. As expected, the first tweet was bland, and the event anti-climactic. Pope Benedict XVI also proved himself initially incapable of tweeting on his own.

from FaithWorld:

China criticizes Vatican for excommunicating bishops

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China said on Monday the Vatican's recent excommunication of two Chinese bishops who were ordained without papal approval was "unreasonable" and "rude," in a sign of escalating tensions between the Vatican and Beijing.

In the government's first response to the Vatican's recent denunciations of the ordinations by China's state-sanctioned Catholic church, the State Bureau of Religious Affairs said it was "greatly concerned" about the excommunication of Joseph Huang Bingzhang and Lei Shiyin.

from FaithWorld:

Malaysia sets up Vatican ties in gesture to Christian minority

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(Pope Benedict receives a gift by Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (L) during a meeting at the Pope's summer residence in Castelgandolfo July 18, 2011/Osservatore Romano)

Malaysia and the Vatican agreed on Monday to establish diplomatic ties, a move seen by analysts as a bid by the Malaysian government to appease minority Christians in the mainly Muslim Southeast Asian country. Prime Minister Najib Razak is trying to mend the government's relations with Christians who make up about 9 percent of the country's 28 million after a rise in religious tensions ahead of general elections widely expected next year.

from FaithWorld:

Vatican excommunicates pro-govt Chinese Catholic bishop, criticizes Beijing

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(Christmas mass at a Catholic church in Beijing December 24, 2009./David Gray)

A Chinese bishop ordained without papal approval has been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, the Vatican has said, bringing relations between the Vatican and Beijing to a new low. In a statement branding Thursday's ordination illegitimate, the Vatican said Pope Benedict "deplores" the way communist authorities are treating Chinese Catholics who want to remain faithful to Rome instead of to the state-backed Church.

China's state-sanctioned Catholic Church ordained Joseph Huang Bingzhang as bishop in Shantou city in southern Guangdong province on Thursday despite warnings he would not be recognized because the city has a Vatican-approved bishop.

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