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.

Mormons feel misunderstood but say their religion is gaining acceptance


WASHINGTON - Mormons in the United States might be getting more attention these days, but they have mixed views on what this attention means.

According to a new Pew Forum poll, most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints feel that Americans don't know enough about their religion, but they also think the public perception of them is becoming more positive.

The study, "Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society" was conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and released Jan. 12. It was inspired by recent articles about the religion being in the spotlight dubbed the "Mormon moment."

Texas bishops applaud court decision to uphold sonogram law


AUSTIN, Texas - Texas Catholic bishops applauded the Jan. 11 decision of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the state to enforce a sonogram law requiring abortion providers to offer women the opportunity to view the ultrasound images of their unborn children.

"Providing mothers access to sonograms informs them about the risks and complications associated with abortion," said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. "These consultations save lives by educating mothers who may not realize that the child in their womb is exactly that — a unique, irreplaceable human life."

Iraqi archbishop 'not afraid' after residence shot at by gunmen


VATICAN CITY - Gunmen shooting at guards keeping watch over the archbishop's residence in Kirkuk in northern Iraq triggered a firefight, leaving two of the gunmen dead and five policemen wounded.

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako told Vatican Radio that he had just returned home from a parish visit before the drive-by attack Jan. 11.

Letter objects to treating same-sex unions 'as if they were marriage'


WASHINGTON - A letter signed by more than three dozen U.S. religious leaders objects to the specter of religious groups being forced to treat same-sex unions "as if they were marriage."

"Altering the civil definition of 'marriage' does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands, at once," said the letter, "Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together," released Jan. 12.

Pope says selfishness, individualism fed economic crisis


VATICAN CITY - The economic crisis should push people to look at the values reflected in their civic life and prompt an honest evaluation of whether citizens are working together to promote justice and solidarity, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Addressing the mayor of Rome and the presidents of the province of Rome and region of Lazio Jan. 12, the Pope said citizens need to "recover values that are at the basis of a true renewal of society and that not only favor economic recovery, but also aim at promoting the integral good of the human person."

Bishops see hope, fear, complexities in visit to Mideast Christians


JERUSALEM - Almost a year after the eruption of the Arab Spring uprisings, the Middle East is a place of hope and fear for Christians, said Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.

Bishop Kicanas, chairman of the board of the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services, was in Baghdad late last year and visited Egypt prior to his arrival in Jerusalem Jan. 8-12 for the annual Holy Land Coordination meeting with bishops from the United States, Canada and Europe.

"There is a fear among the Christians (in Egypt) whether they will be given human rights and whether they will be treated as equal citizens. There is a sense of wait and see," Bishop Kicanas told Catholic News Service Jan. 11.

Working quickly, Vatican gave reporters Wikipedia bios of new cardinals


VATICAN CITY - Along with statistics on the 22 new cardinals named by Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican press office offered journalists quick biographical notes -- mainly drawn from Wikipedia.

"If we'd had a week, we would have prepared official biographies," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service Jan. 9.

The vast majority of profiles handed out Jan. 6 were brief and factual.

Young and old, hundreds of pilgrims seek baptism in Jordan River ritual


QASR EL-YEHUD, West Bank - With 8-year-old grandson Jamal in tow, Hajeh Mattar made her way across a wooden platform alongside the Jordan River. Her plan: to baptize him in the waters of the river at the traditional site of Jesus' baptism.

Jamal's father, Awad, his mother, Manal, and his sister Justine, 6, followed not far behind. For Hajeh, 65, it was the opportunity to fulfill a promise she had made at the site almost a decade ago when she prayed to God to see grandchildren from her son Awad, now 35.

It was her way to observe the feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jan. 8 along with hundreds of Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims who made their way to the site.

French president praises Joan of Arc for forging 'national conscience'


DOMREMY, France - French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised his country's patron, St. Joan of Arc, for helping "forge the national conscience."

"For the church, Joan is a saint. For the republic, she's the incarnation of the finest French virtues, including a patriotism that consists of loving one's homeland without resenting others," the president said Jan. 6 after attending Mass at Domremy to mark the 600th anniversary of her birth.

In speech to diplomats, pope condemns 'religiously motivated terrorism'


VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI condemned "religiously motivated terrorism" and restrictions on religious freedom during his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican.

Looking both at signs of promise and areas of concern around the globe, the Pope said human dignity, truth and justice demand governments safeguard all human life and recognize the importance of the traditional family based on the marriage of a man and a woman.