VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis formally asked U.N. agencies and the entire international community "to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway" in northeastern Iraq.

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MANCHESTER, England - Iraqi Christian refugees braved temperatures as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit to demand that the United Nations intervene to protect them from persecution by Islamist militants.

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VATICAN CITY - The Vatican representative to the UN Human Rights Council urged the Israeli military and fighters in the Gaza Strip to stop targeting civilian areas.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis named a Filipino archbishop, who helped lead and rebuild the church in Haiti after its devastating earthquake, as the Vatican representative at the United Nations in New York.

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OXFORD, England - The Catholic Church in the Central African Republic pleaded for firmer action by United Nations-backed peacekeepers after an attack on a Bangui church left the parish priest and at least 14 worshippers dead.

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VATICAN CITY - The UN Committee Against Torture urged the Vatican to impose "meaningful sanctions" on any Church authority who fails to follow Church law in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse and asked that Church officials worldwide be required to report abuse allegations to local police.

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VATICAN CITY - The Vatican has effectively addressed the “worldwide scourge” of clerical sexual abuse over the past decade and promoted the reporting of allegations to both Church and legal authorities, a United Nations panel heard.

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VATICAN CITY - Appearing before a U.N. committee monitoring adherence to an international treaty designed to fight torture, a Vatican official insisted that, over the past 10 years, the Catholic Church has "in a systematic, constructive and effective way," worked to prevent clerical sexual abuse of minors and assist victims.

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VATICAN CITY - Appearing before a UN committee monitoring adherence to an international treaty designed to fight torture, Vatican officials repeatedly were asked about efforts to investigate allegations of clerical sexual abuse, punish offenders and co-operate with civil authorities in prosecuting the perpetrators.

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VATICAN CITY - The Vatican could face a wave of new sexual abuse claims dating back decades if a United Nations inquiry finds that the Roman Catholic Church has violated an international treaty against torture and inhuman treatment.

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VATICAN CITY - As Vatican representatives prepare to testify before a United Nations inquiry into torture next week, a senior official warned investigators that it would be “deceptive” to link torture with the pedophilia scandals that have swept the Catholic Church.

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AMMAN, Jordan - A steady stream of Iraqi refugees, smiling and displaying purple index fingers, emerged from a polling station in the Hashemi Shamali district, where the majority of these urban refugees live in the Jordanian capital.

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VATICAN CITY - Recognizing the important role each other plays on the global stage, Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met at the Vatican April 9, discussing common efforts to promote peace and protect human dignity.

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December 12, 2012

Overhaul overdue

The United Nations reports there are 10.5 million refugees in the world. These are homeless, often stateless, mostly impoverished people displaced for many reasons, but frequently due to war and persecution.

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NEW YORK - It’s known as the United Nations church.

About halfway along 47th Street, just west of the UN’s iconic tower on First Avenue in Manhattan — and in an area known as Dag Hammarskjold Plaza — is Holy Family Church, a name that also reflects its long time roots in the city’s east side neigh­bourhood, where it also serves 500 families in the community.

The present Holy Family building, a stunningly beautiful modern structure, was dedicated by Cardinal Francis Spellman in 1965, just before Pope Paul VI’s visit to the UN in October of that year. A cornerstone commemo­rates an ecumenical meeting the pontiff held at the church. The parish actually dates to the 1920s when it was established as the church for the local Turtle Bay Italian neighbourhood.

The church plays a significant role in the UN community by housing the residence and office of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, as well as offices of national and in­ternational UN-related Catholic organizations. The church’s dedi­cation was attended by then UN Secretary General U Thant. Holy Family continues to be the site of many UN religious observances.

“In fact just this past Monday we had a prayer service for the opening of the General Assembly,” Fr. Robert Robbins, the church’s pastor of 23 years, said in a late September interview. Ambassa­dors and UN personnel attended.

Robbins, a native of the Bronx who is leaving Holy Family for several new roles with the New York archdiocese, including director of community outreach, says the international flavour of the parish creates a unique community.

“It’s always interesting because what we have is a New York City parish which is also attempting to reach out to Catholic members of the UN with different cultural backgrounds, so each time something presents itself — for instance a memorial service or something like that — you’re going to get the mission in from Peru or some other country,” he said.

“It’s just very interesting trying to deal with the language differ­ences, the cultural differences, also the religious expression, because South American countries espe­cially have devotions that wouldn’t be known to us in North America.”

Parishioner Margie Skeels, a former parish council president who works with the UN Devel­opment Program, said being a member of the church “raises the level of my faith. Personally I have a chance to live my faith through the UN.”

The building is almost awe-inspiring in its architecture and art work — with sculptures, altars, stained glass and a unique presen­tation of the Stations of the Cross — created by various international artists, including a Canadian.

The original church was built on a stable because the area between First and Second Avenues once abounded in slaughterhouses. Some of that building is contained in the present structure.

The new church’s architect, George J. Sole, created a church symbolic of a stone monument and which partly harmonizes with the UN building itself. The exte­rior’s gray granite walls consist of panels with a cruciform pattern surrounded by four squares, rep­resenting a community gathered around Christ. The interior is spare, but that complements its breathtaking artistic details.

The altar is made from black granite quarried near the Canadian Arctic, behind which is a towering aluminum sculpture of the Risen Christ with a large testa or crown of lights. It, along with the statues at the two side altars, and the statue of the Virgin Mary in an outside garden next to the church, were made by the Italian studio of Nagni. The side altars represent themes of sacrifice, uni­versality and peace.

The west wall incorporates the related grouping of three large stained glass windows and three ceramic sculptures, referencing the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt with the dispossession of contem­porary refugees.

The Stations of the Cross, on the east wall, are one continuous set of sculpted images. In the 11th station, the sculptor has pressed into clay the tools used in the crucifixion. In the 12th, there is a reference to the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop to Christ hanging on the cross.

The stations, windows and ceramics are all from the studio of Catalan-born artist Jordi Bonet, who emigrated to Canada and worked from a studio in Montreal until his death in 1979. His sculp­tures can be seen as far afield as JFK airport in New York and the Pie-IX subway station in Montreal.

(Stang is a freelance writer in Windsor, Ont.)

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