VATICAN CITY - As the people of Nigeria prepared for general elections, Pope Francis wrote to the nations' bishops urging efforts to build up a "culture of encounter" that would create a united front against Boko Haram terrorists and ethnic tensions.

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VATICAN CITY - Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have fled persecution in their homelands and the Palestinian Christians struggling to survive in the land of Jesus deserve the prayers and material support of Catholics around the globe, a Vatican official said.

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MONTREAL - Christians have always faced various degrees of persecution through the centuries and should always be prepared to wear  “the crown of martyrdom,” a Coptic leader in Montreal told his congregation Feb. 28 during a memorial Mass honouring  21 Egyptians who were beheaded on a beach in Libya by jihadists in mid-February.

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ABUJA, Nigeria - Politicians should desist from hate speech and inciting Nigerians against each other during the campaign for general elections, said a Nigerian cardinal.

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VATICAN CITY - As the Ukrainian Catholic bishops met in a private audience with Pope Francis Feb. 20, Ukraine was marking its first Day of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes, commemorating those who died in the Euromaidan movement one year earlier.

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WARSAW, Poland - Catholic and Orthodox archbishops in Ukraine appealed for national unity against pro-Russia separatists as calls mounted for the United States to help arm Ukrainian forces.

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VATICAN CITY - The only word worthy of being heard in the throes of war is "peace," and there is nothing more scandalous than a nation made up of Christians engaged in conflict, Pope Francis said.

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VATICAN CITY - Even as their theological dialogues continue in the search for full agreement on doctrinal issues, divided Christians are called to work together for justice and peace, especially in the Middle East, Pope Francis said.

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OXFORD, England - Pope Francis plans to visit the Central African Republic late this year in an effort to end two years of intercommunal violence, the vice president of the country's bishops' conference confirmed.

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VATICAN CITY - Highlighting some of the most urgent conflicts facing the world, Pope Francis said such strife and injustices were rooted in a culture of rejection that refuses to recognize God, to protect nature and to respect other human beings.

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HONG KONG - Hong Kong Christian leaders urged reconciliation in their Christmas messages, issued within a week of the end of a 79-day protest.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis deplored the "abuses and inhuman acts" of Islamic State militants, and called on all religious leaders to condemn them "unanimously and unambiguously." He also said he hoped to travel to the Middle East to comfort persecuted Christians there.

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VATICAN CITY - God is knocking to come into people's lives, so be attentive, humble and courageous to let him in, Pope Francis said.

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OTTAWA - The bill to establish Pope John Paul II Day passed the Senate Dec. 16 and has received royal assent.
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WASHINGTON - American Church officials expressed optimism about plans by the United States and Cuba to normalize diplomatic relations and work toward reshaping how the two neighbouring countries interact with each other.

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