VATICAN CITY - The Vatican has signed three international treaties supporting the fight against the illegal drug trade, financing terrorism and organized crime.

By signing onto these international legal instruments Jan. 25, the Vatican "confirms its intention as well as its effective and practical commitment to collaborate with the international community in a manner consistent with its nature and mission, with a view to guaranteeing international peace and justice," wrote Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican secretary for relations with states.

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VATICAN CITY - In 2011, for the first time, the number of visitors to the Vatican Museums topped 5 million.

Antonio Paolucci, director of the museums, said breaking the 5-million threshold poses serious problems as well as challenges in the areas of access and education.

"Five million visitors means 10 million hands that touch or can touch and 10 million feet that, day after day, wear out the multicolored stone (floors) and the most famous archaeological mosaics in the world," he said.

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VATICAN CITY - In the Catholic Church, it's true that everything old can be new again, and the Vatican wants one of those things to be the art of "apologetics" — dusted off and updated to respond to new challenges, including those posed by militant atheists.

The term "apologetics" literally means "to answer, account for or defend," and through the 1950s even Catholic high school students were given specific training in responding to questions about Catholicism and challenges to Church teaching.

At least in Northern Europe and North America, the effort mainly was a response to Protestantism. Today, while sects and fundamentalist groups challenge Catholics in many parts of the world, almost all Catholics face objections to the idea of belief in general, said Legionary of Christ Father Thomas Williams, a professor at Rome's Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University.

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VATICAN CITY - In part to avoid giving the impression that becoming a cardinal is a sacrament or quasi-sacrament, Pope Benedict XVI will use a revised, streamlined prayer service to create 22 new cardinals in February.

"The rite used up to now has been revised and simplified with the approval of the Holy Father Benedict XVI," the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, reported Jan. 7.

The paper said there would not be a "ring Mass" the day after the consistory; the new cardinals will receive their red hats, their cardinal rings and the assignment of their titular churches in Rome during the same ceremony Feb. 18.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI's early January address to the Vatican diplomatic corps, an annual tradition that reaffirms the Holy See's commitment to its relations with foreign states, comes after an especially trying year for Vatican diplomacy.

In November, the Irish government announced that it would close its embassy to the Holy See, to continue relations through an ambassador based in Dublin. The move was ostensibly to cut costs, but its timing, closely following harsh criticisms of the Vatican's record on clerical sex abuse by the Irish prime minister and other officials, strongly suggested that it was really a political rebuke.

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VATICAN CITY - The Prefecture of the Papal Household, the office responsible for handing out free tickets to papal events, estimated more than 2.5 million people saw Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in 2011.

The prefecture -- headed by U.S. Archbishop James M. Harvey -- estimated 500,000 people attended a liturgy celebrated by Pope Benedict in the month of May.

Pope Benedict beatified Pope John Paul II May 1. While there may have been only 500,000 people with tickets in St. Peter's Square and on Vatican territory, Italian police had said more than 1 million people were gathered in and around the Vatican and in front of large video screens in several parts of Rome for the Mass.

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DARBY, Pa. U.S. Cardinal John P. Foley, who spent more than two decades leading the Church's social communications council and later worked for the Church in the Middle East, died Dec. 11 after a battle with leukemia.

The cardinal, who had been residing at Villa St. Joseph, the home for retired Philadelphia archdiocesan priests, was 76. Cardinal Foley's media-friendly style and quick sense of humour shone in person and throughout the numerous speeches and homilies he delivered around the world. He often spoke of the joys of working for the Church, telling his audiences that while the pay often is not great "the benefits are out of this world."

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