VATICAN CITY - Threats to religious liberty and other basic rights, the global financial crisis and crises in politics and education signal a "worrying crisis of democracy," said a note from the Vatican announcing Pope Benedict XVI's choice of a theme for World Peace Day 2013.

In a message reflecting on the theme, "Blessed are the peacemakers," the Pope will offer "an ethical reflection" on measures that the global community is considering or should adopt in response to the various crises afflicting many countries around the world, said a Vatican communique published July 16.

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy - Just as individual musicians in an orchestra turn dissonance into harmony through hard work, sacrifice and listening to one another, so, too, can the world's people turn conflict into peace, said Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope made his remarks following a July 11 concert performed in his honor by young musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories and other Arab countries.

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DUBLIN - One of the key architects of the Northern Ireland peace process has been honored by Pope Benedict XVI for his commitment to peace and reconciliation in the region.

John Hume, a founder-member of the mainly Catholic Social Democratic and Labor Party, was credited with initiating the political dialogue that brought about the 1994 cease-fire by the Irish Republican Army. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed his trust in the Vatican's secretary of state and defended him against a barrage of "unjust criticism" in the Italian media.

In a letter addressed to "dear brother" Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 77, the Pope expressed his "profound appreciation for your discreet presence and wise counsel, which I have found particularly helpful over recent months."

The Vatican has had to face a number of challenges recently, including leaks of confidential correspondence to the Pope and the Secretariat of State; the arrest of the Pope's personal assistant in connection to the leaks; and the ouster of the Vatican bank's president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, for neglecting his duties amid worsening management problems.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI will present a papal document addressing the church's concerns in the Middle East, meet with representatives of local Christian and Muslim communities, and address political and cultural leaders on a three-day visit to Lebanon Sept. 14-16.

Pope Benedict's primary task on the trip will be to present a document, called an apostolic exhortation, based on the deliberations of a special synod of bishops held at the Vatican in 2009.

That two-week meeting, which was attended by 185 bishops, most of them from the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Holy See, focused on the precarious circumstances of 5.7 million Catholics in 16 Middle Eastern countries.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has named Archbishop Gerhard L. Muller of Regensburg, Germany, the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The 64-year-old expert in dogmatic theology and ecumenism, who has co-authored a work on liberation theology, replaced U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, who retired at 76.

As head of the doctrinal congregation, the archbishop also assumes the roles of president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the International Theological Commission.

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VATICAN CITY - Christians find fulfillment not by using power or force to realize their own wishes, but by being submissive to God's will and serving others, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Many in the world today are surrounded by people or things that threaten to become the guiding force in their lives, therefore, "it's necessary to have a hierarchy of values in which the top priority is God," the pope said during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall June 27.

It was his last general audience before the pope was to leave July 3 for vacation at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. The weekly general audience was scheduled to resume Aug. 1.

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ROVERETO DI NOVI, Italy - Fear and anxiety are natural responses to the terror and destruction wrought by a natural disaster, but God's love is rock solid, providing certainty and solace for all victims, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Upon this rock, with this firm hope, one can build and one can rebuild," he said to more than 2,000 Rovereto di Novi residents -- many of whom were rendered homeless and jobless by two earthquakes in May.

"Remain true to your vocation as fraternal and supportive people, and tackle everything with patience and determination, fighting the temptations that unfortunately come with these moments of weakness and need," he said June 26.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of an Argentine bishop seen apparently being amorous with an unidentified female in a Mexican swimming pool.

The Pope accepted the resignation June 26 of Bishop Fernando Bargallo of Merlo-Moreno, Argentina, and appointed retired Bishop Alcides Casaretto of San Isidro as apostolic administrator of the diocese.

Argentine news channel A24 showed photos June 19 of Bishop Bargallo and an unidentified woman during a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, two years ago. Media outlets throughout Latin American published the photos widely.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI asked some of his closest advisers for guidance on how to restore trust and confidence in the Catholic church's leadership amid a scandal over leaks of confidential Vatican papers.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the Pope called two extraordinary meetings June 23 to "deepen his reflections" over the leaks and its consequences.

Paolo Gabriele, the Pope's personal butler, was arrested May 23 after confidential letters and documents addressed to the Pope and others within the Vatican administration were allegedly found in his Vatican apartment. Many of the documents were published in Italian media over the past several months and in a recently released best-selling book by an Italian journalist.

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VATICAN CITY - The increasing number of Pentecostal and evangelical communities in Latin America cannot be ignored or taken too lightly, Pope Benedict XVI told bishops from Colombia.

Catholics are "called to purify and revitalize their faith" as well as strengthen pastoral programs to improve formation and help people feel welcome in the church, he said.

The Pope made the remarks in a talk June 22 to a group of Colombian bishops making their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses and hold discussions with Vatican officials.

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VATICAN CITY - The international community must act swiftly and decisively to end the violence in Syria, which "risks becoming a widespread conflict that would have seriously negative consequences for the country and the entire region," Pope Benedict XVI said.

The Pope expressed his prayers and hopes for peace in Syria during a meeting June 21 with Catholic Church representatives from throughout the Middle East, including the nuncio to Syria and the president of Caritas Syria, and with leaders of Eastern Catholic churches.

The representatives and leaders were at the Vatican for a meeting of the Vatican's coordinating body for church funding agencies that assist Eastern Catholics and Catholics throughout the Middle East.

The violence in Syria began in March 2011 and has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians as soldiers battle forces seeking an end to the rule of President Bashar Assad.

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VATICAN CITY - Expressing his "deep concern" about terrorist violence in Nigeria, Pope Benedict XVI urged an end to "the shedding of the blood of so many innocent people."

Speaking at the end of his weekly general audience June 20, the Pope said the terrorist attacks are continuing and are "directed mostly against Christian faithful."

For months, bombs have exploded at Christian churches in various cities; the attacks were carried out on Sunday mornings when the churches were full. Forty-five people were reported killed June 17 after four churches in Zaria and Kaduna were bombed, and mobs carried out reprisal attacks on Muslims.

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VATICAN CITY - Catholics who act like their faith has nothing to do with daily life and a church structure that is more bureaucracy than service are two impediments to the church's ability to proclaim faith in Jesus, said the working document for the next world Synod of Bishops.

"Every one of the church's actions has an essential evangelizing character and must never be separated from the duty to help others encounter Christ in faith," said the document that will guide the work of the synod, scheduled for Oct. 7-28 at the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI chose as the synod's theme: "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith."

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI called for prayers for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress under way in Dublin, expressing hopes it would lead to a greater appreciation of Jesus' self-sacrifice and deeper love and unity in the church.

The weeklong gathering, which opened June 10, is "a precious occasion for reaffirming the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the church," the Pope said at the end of his weekly general audience June 13.

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