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In Poland, a beatification Mass ceremony was held to honor a Catholic family killed by Nazis for hiding Jews during World War II. Over 30,000 pilgrims and Poland’s president attended the outdoor service, led by an envoy of Pope Francis. This marked the first time an entire family has been beatified, a significant step toward sainthood.

The Ulma family, consisting of Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six children, hid eight Jews in their farmhouse in Markowa, southeastern Poland, driven by their Christian values during late 1942. Among those sheltered were Saul Goldman and his sons, Baruch, Mechel, Joachim, and Mojzesz, as well as Golda Grunfeld, Lea Didner, and her daughter Reszla, as documented by Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance.

Contrary to Nazi-occupied western Europe, aiding Jews in occupied Poland carried a penalty of immediate execution. In 1944, it is believed that a Polish police officer betrayed the Ulma family, leading to their capture. German gendarmes killed the Jews hidden in the attic and then executed the Ulma family, including Wiktoria, who was seven months pregnant, in front of their young children, the eldest of whom was eight, and the youngest, just 18 months old. Subsequently, members of the Polish underground resistance executed the police officer responsible for the family’s betrayal.

The outdoor Mass on Sunday was presided over by Pope Francis’ envoy, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro. During the ceremony in Markowa, the Pope referred to the Ulma family as a “ray of light” amid the darkness of war and called for applause in St. Peter’s Square. President Andrzej Duda expressed gratitude to Pope Francis for the extraordinary beatification of the entire family, highlighting the importance of acknowledging the historical truth about that era.

In 1995, Israel’s Yad Vashem recognized Jozef and Wiktoria as “Righteous Among the Nations,” and the beatification process began in 2003. Beatification is a significant step in the Catholic Church toward canonization or sainthood, signifying that those beatified are deemed “blessed” and deserving of public veneration.

Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community in 1939, and more Poles (over 7,000) have been honored by Israel for aiding Jews during the war than any other nationality. However, it’s important to note that some Poles also participated in the persecution and murder of Jews under the brutal Nazi occupation. Approximately six million Polish citizens lost their lives during the war, with half of them being Jews.

Prominent members of the Polish government, including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, attended the Mass. The government has faced accusations of attempting to reshape historical narratives by emphasizing Polish suffering at the hands of the Nazis and the aid provided to Jewish neighbors while suppressing research into cases of Poles who committed crimes against the country’s Jewish population.

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During his five-day visit to Portugal, Pope Francis held a private meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse. The Vatican described the gathering, which took place on Wednesday, as an occasion of intense listening. A recent report revealed that at least 4,815 children in Portugal had suffered abuse, and the Church had attempted to systematically cover up the issue.

At an evening service in Lisbon, Pope Francis acknowledged the need for the Church to heed the anguished cries of the victims. He emphasized the importance of a continual process of purification in response to the scandal, which had also led to a growing detachment from practicing the faith among believers.

The meeting was conducted at the Holy See’s diplomatic mission in Portugal and included 13 abuse survivors, lasting for over an hour. Representatives from the Portuguese Church responsible for protecting minors also attended the meeting.

In February, an independent commission established by the Catholic Church in Portugal released a report documenting the experiences of 564 individuals who reported abuse by priests or other Church figures. This study, similar to audits conducted in other regions, covered cases dating back to 1950 and suggested that the actual number of victims could be much higher.

The Pope’s visit to Portugal coincided with World Youth Day, a week-long event organized by the Church every few years in different cities worldwide, celebrating religious and cultural activities.

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Pope Francis is scheduled to undergo abdominal surgery for a hernia at Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Wednesday afternoon. The Vatican has stated that he is expected to remain in the hospital for several days to recover from the operation.

The hernia has been causing recurrent and worsening symptoms, leading to the decision for surgical intervention. The Pope has experienced various health issues in recent years and relies on a cane and wheelchair due to a persistent knee ailment.

His medical team determined that surgery was necessary, and the procedure will involve a laparotomy and abdominal wall surgery under general anesthesia. Pope Francis carried out his regular audience earlier on Wednesday without mentioning the upcoming operation.

This follows a scheduled check-up at the same hospital the day before, as well as a previous hospitalization in March for a lung infection. In 2021, he had part of his colon removed to address a painful bowel condition, and he recently disclosed that the issue had returned.

Despite his health challenges, the Pope remains committed to his role and has dismissed any notions of resignation. He is generally regarded as having been in good health during his tenure as the head of the Catholic Church and maintains a busy schedule, with upcoming visits planned to Portugal and Mongolia in August.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is currently on a visit to Rome, where he is scheduled to meet with political leaders and have an audience with Pope Francis. Zelensky expressed his anticipation for the visit, calling it an important step towards Ukraine’s victory.

The visit includes meetings with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella, followed by a visit to the Vatican on Saturday. In preparation for the visit, a significant security operation has been initiated, involving the deployment of over 1,000 police officers and the establishment of a no-fly zone over Rome.

Pope Francis has consistently expressed his willingness to act as a mediator in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Just a few weeks ago, he mentioned that the Vatican was working on a peace plan to end the war, although the details have not been made public yet.

The relationship between Ukraine and the Vatican has not always been smooth, as demonstrated by the Ukrainian ambassador’s rare criticism of the Pope in August. The ambassador took issue with the Pope referring to Darya Dugina, the daughter of a Russian ultra-nationalist, who was killed by a car bomb, as an “innocent” victim of war.

This meeting between President Zelensky and Pope Francis holds particular significance as it takes place in the context of Russia’s recent air strikes on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. The attacks caused injuries and damage to critical infrastructure, residential areas, and government buildings. In response, Ukrainian forces reported progress near the city of Bakhmut.

Explosions were also reported in the Russian-occupied city of Luhansk, with accusations that Kyiv used Storm Shadow missiles, which the UK claimed to have supplied to Ukraine earlier in the week. Further reports of blasts in Luhansk emerged on Saturday.

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Pope Francis has expressed concern about the increasing difficulty of starting a family in Italy, stating that it has become a significant challenge that only the wealthy can afford. Speaking at a conference on Italy’s demographic crisis, he noted that pets are replacing children in many households. The country has one of the lowest fertility rates in the European Union, with births dropping to a new low of below 400,000 last year. The Pope attributed this decline to a lack of hope among younger generations, who face uncertainty, fragility, and precariousness due to difficulties in finding stable jobs, high rents, and insufficient wages.

The Pope shared an incident where a woman asked him to bless her baby, only to reveal a small dog instead. Expressing his frustration, he questioned why someone would prioritize a pet over hungry children. This remark received applause from the audience.

Italy is not the only country experiencing a decline in birth rates. Japan, South Korea, Puerto Rico, and Portugal are among the nations facing similar challenges. However, Italy’s situation is particularly worrisome due to its status as the third-largest country in the eurozone. The country could lose almost 20% of its population by 2050 while simultaneously facing a rapidly aging population, as evidenced by the tripling number of centenarians over the past two decades.

The shrinking population is a major concern, with experts warning that it could lead to the impoverishment of the nation. Italy’s Economy Minister, Giancarlo Giorgetti, predicts that the declining birth rate will result in an 18% reduction in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2042.

Several factors contribute to the declining birth rate in Italy. Young people face difficulties in finding stable employment, and the childcare support system is often inadequate, making it challenging for mothers to balance work and family life. Additionally, six out of ten mothers lack access to nurseries, and many pregnant women face resignations or dismissals from their jobs upon pregnancy.

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Pope Francis has called on Hungary and its leaders to open their doors to migrants during his visit to the country. Speaking at an open-air mass in Budapest, he expressed his disappointment that doors were being closed to those who were different.

Despite Hungary’s anti-immigration stance, up to 100,000 people, including Prime Minister Viktor Orban, attended the mass. Pope Francis urged everyone, especially those with political and social responsibilities, to be more open towards migrants and the poor. During the mass, he also prayed for peace between Ukraine and Russia, who are currently at war.

On his flight back home, Pope Francis disclosed that the Vatican was involved in a peace mission to put an end to the war between Ukraine and Russia, though he did not reveal the details of the mission yet. He also expressed his willingness to assist in the return of Ukrainian children taken to Russia since the invasion.

During his three-day visit to Hungary, Pope Francis discussed the conflict in Ukraine with Prime Minister Viktor Orban and a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Pope’s visit to Hungary was his first since he became Pope 10 years ago, and it was driven by his support for Catholics and concern over the war in Ukraine.

Hungary shares a border with Ukraine, and Prime Minister Orban has maintained relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, refusing to support military aid for Ukraine unlike other leaders of the European Union. During his visit, the Pope met with people from all walks of life, including youths, the poor, politicians, and academics.

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The Pope has announced that, for the first time, women will be given voting rights at a major global meeting of bishops called the synod, which is an advisory body to the Pope. Previously, women were only permitted to attend as observers. The new rules will allow five religious sisters to vote, while men will still cast the majority of the votes.

The change is being viewed as a significant move towards gender equality within the male-dominated Roman Catholic Church. The Women’s Ordination Conference, which advocates for women priests, has hailed the reform as “a significant crack in the stained glass ceiling”.

The Pope also announced that 70 non-clerical members of the religious community will be given voting rights, further breaking from tradition.

The Pope has expressed his desire for half of the non-clerical members with voting rights at the synod to be women and to include more young people. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, an organizer of the synod, described the changes as important but not revolutionary.

Vatican correspondent Christopher Lamb stated that the reforms were highly significant and reflected the Pope’s efforts to make the Church more inclusive in decision-making. However, Lamb also predicted that the Pope would face resistance from some members of the Church over the decision to allow women to vote. The changes were the result of unprecedented dialogue on the issue of female representation within the Church.

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The Vatican has stated that Pope Francis’ health is doing better after he was sent to the hospital with a respiratory illness.

He was admitted to Gemelli Hospital on Wednesday, for what was initially said to be a planned check-up. According to a statement released on Thursday by Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, the 86-year-old pope’s medical care is still ongoing.

He said, “His Holiness Pope Francis slept soundly last night.” He read a few newspapers this morning after breakfast before getting back to work.

He continued by saying that he then went to the hospital’s chapel, where he prayed and received the Communion.

When the Pope might leave Rome’s Gemelli hospital was not specified by Mr. Bruni. He is anticipated to stay there for “a few days,” according to the Vatican on Wednesday.

According to a source with intimate information who spoke to the BBC, his closest team members—including security—spent the night with him. The Easter holiday weekend is the busiest period of the year for Pope Francis, who has a full programme of events and services.

This weekend is Palm Sunday Mass, followed by Holy Week and Easter activities the following week. Nurses were hopeful that he would be discharged in time for Palm Sunday, according to Italian news agency Ansa.

It stated that testing had ruled out pneumonia and cardiac issues. The Church previously declared that he was not afflicted with Covid-19.

Earlier this month, the Argentine pontiff celebrated his tenth anniversary as head of the Catholic Church. It is a well-known fact that the majority of the world’s population lives in the urban environment.

He maintains a hectic schedule and travels extensively, although he has used a wheelchair for the past year due to knee discomfort and acknowledged last summer that he had to slow down.

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In order to preside over the burial of his predecessor, who resigned from the papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has joined pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square. As Pope Benedict XVI’s body was taken out and positioned on the steps of St. Peter’s cathedral in the Vatican, the dome was veiled in mist.

The believers who had gathered for the funeral applauded. Benedict was then buried beneath the basilica in a tomb. Cardinals in red robes, nuns, and monks in their dark robes were among the clergy from all over the world who had arrived. In a wheelchair, Pope Francis was wheeled out onto the dais.

The Sistine Chapel choir’s Latin songs resounded all over the area. The atmosphere was sombre and reserved.

A teacher named Daniele told me the weather was appropriate for the occasion after he and the former pope had met in a church in Rome. Pope Benedict’s enigma, the mystery of life and death, is symbolised by the fog.

Pope Francis talked of “knowledge, love and devotion that he showered upon us through the years” at the Mass, which was celebrated by cardinals, bishops, and priests.

“Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom,” he said referring to Jesus, “may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever.”

Police estimate that 50,000 people attended the funeral. Italy and Germany, the country of the late Pope Benedict, both sent official delegations. The king and queen of Belgium attended in a private capacity, as did several heads of state.

With Benedict’s passing, the extraordinary situation of a pope and a previous pope coexisting in the Vatican comes to an end. This position was made possible by Benedict’s resignation almost ten years ago.

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In his traditional Christmas Day broadcast from the Vatican, Pope Francis claimed that there is a “famine of peace” around the world. He criticised the use of “food as a weapon” in warfare and demanded a stop to the “senseless war” in Ukraine.

About 30% of the world’s wheat was delivered by Ukraine, and since the Russian invasion in February, prices have increased. Pope Francis delivered his tenth Christmas Day address since taking office. He spent the majority of his ten-minute address discussing the conflict in Ukraine, but he added that there was “a catastrophic famine of peace also in other regions and other theatres of this Third World War.” He specifically mentioned the conflicts and humanitarian problems in the Sahel, Haiti, Myanmar, and the Middle East.

The pontiff prayed for “reconciliation” in Iran, where there have been widespread anti-government demonstrations for more than three months. Human rights organisations claim that a crackdown in response to the protests there has resulted in the deaths of more than 500 people, including 69 children.

The 86-year-old Pope bemoaned the human price of war while speaking from a balcony of the basilica that looked out over St. Peter’s Square. He pleaded with people to keep in mind those “who go hungry while enormous amounts of food go to waste daily and resources are being wasted on weaponry.”

“The war in Ukraine has further aggravated this situation, putting entire peoples at risk of famine, especially in Afghanistan and in the countries of the Horn of Africa,” he said.

“We know that every war causes hunger and exploits food as a weapon, hindering its distribution to people already suffering.”

According to the Pope, “those with political responsibility” should set an example by making food “exclusively an instrument of peace.”

The traditional blessing Urbi et Orbi (To the City and to the World), repeated in Latin and customarily in many other languages, was said after his sermon.

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