{mosimage}BANGALORE, India - Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared an end to the nation’s civil war in mid-May, but the head of the Sri Lankan Catholic bishops’ conference said the war will be over only when the island nation is able to overcome its ethnic divisions.

“The war is technically over. But we can celebrate the real end of war only when we are able to overcome our prejudices and live together as one people,” Bishop Joseph Vianney Fernando told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from his home May 19.

Pope asks Holy Land Christians to unite to preach hope, peace

{mosimage}JERUSALEM - Standing before Christ's empty tomb, Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians in the Holy Land to bury their differences so they could preach hope and peace with one voice.

"The church in the Holy Land, which has so often experienced the dark mystery of Golgotha, must never cease to be an intrepid herald of the luminous message of hope which this empty tomb proclaims," the Pope said May 15.

Pope supports Palestinian homeland

{mosimage}BETHLEHEM, West Bank - Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the Palestinian territories May 13 and immediately declared the Vatican’s support for an independent Palestine.

“The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours, within internationally recognized borders,” the Pope told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Pope arrives in Israel, condemns anti-Semitism

{mosimage}JERUSALEM - Reaching Israel, the country at the heart of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope Benedict XVI condemned anti-Semitism and prayed for a new era in which all believers in the one God would live in peace and treat each other with respect and justice. In his arrival speech May 11 at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, the Pope prayed that Isaiah's prophecy would be fulfilled and all the peoples of the world would walk along God's paths — "paths of peace and justice, paths that lead to reconciliation and harmony."

Palestinian refugees ask Pope to spread their story

{mosimage}AIDA REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank - When Pope Benedict XVI comes to the Aida Refugee Camp May 13, Um Omar will climb to the balcony on the top floor of her building and wave both her hands in a victory sign in his direction.

"We don't have money to pay the water and electricity bills. If he can help us with that, he is welcome. If he can help us remove the wall, he is welcome," said Um Omar, 52, whose given name is Widad Abu Akkar but who is known by the traditional moniker of "mother of Omar," her oldest son. She has raised all 14 of her children in a cramped 650-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment.

Obama backs off on The Freedom of Choice Act

{mosimage}WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama in his April 29 press conference said the Freedom of Choice Act is not an important legislative priority and that he is instead focusing on reducing unwanted pregnancies.

"The Freedom of Choice Act is not my highest legislative priority," Obama said. "I believe that women should have the right to choose, but I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on."

Our Lady of Guadalupe's intercession sought to fight swine flu

{mosimage}MEXICO CITY  - Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe and cancelled Masses in the archdiocese April 26 due to an outbreak of swine flu.

The decision to cancel Masses followed instructions from the local health secretariat that all large gatherings be cancelled as authorities raced to contain an epidemic that threatened to spread well beyond Mexico.

Pope expresses sorrow for Canadian native abuses

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - In a step toward reconciling a long-standing historical injustice, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sorrow for the suffering of Canadian aboriginal children over decades in church-run residential schools.

The Pope met at the Vatican April 29 with a delegation of native Canadians representing those who had suffered forced acculturation and in some cases physical and sexual abuse at the government schools, many run by Catholics, and listened to their grievances.

UN conference exploited for extremist remarks

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - An international conference dedicated to combating racism unfortunately was used as a platform for taking "extreme and offensive political positions the Holy See deplores and rejects," said the chief Vatican representative to UN agencies in Geneva.

The Durban Review Conference was meant to be an "occasion to set aside mutual difference and mistrust; reject once more any theory of racial or ethnic superiority; and renew the international community's commitment to the elimination of all expressions of racism," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.

Drought could reverse years of Tanzanian progress

{mosimage}TORONTO - Fr. Winfried Ngoyani would rather not be in Toronto. He should be home in the diocese of Mahenge in rural central Tanzania where he runs the Catholic school system.

In the two secondary schools for girls his diocese has established, Regina Mundi and St. Agnes, Ngoyani believes he can build a future for the region, prevent HIV and AIDS and preserve African and Christian values.

800 years of the Franciscan way


{mosimage}ASSISI, Italy - Brown-, gray- and black-hooded robes rustled, knotted white cords swung rhythmically and sandaled feet crunched gravel.

The soft sounds of laboured breathing could also be heard as several hundred Franciscan friars from all over the world wound their way up steep hills, passing wheat fields and olive groves while on a two-hour penitential procession to the tomb of their founder, St. Francis of Assisi.

The processing friars were just some of the 1,800 Friars Minor, Conventual Franciscans, Capuchins and Third Order Regular Franciscans attending an April 15-18 gathering celebrating the 800th anniversary of papal approval of the Franciscan rule. It was the first time that many representatives of the four main Franciscan branches had come together in Assisi.