{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.

Vatican officials object to Iranian president's remarks on Israel

{mosimage}ROME - Although members of a Vatican delegation objected to the Iranian president's remarks about Israel at a UN conference on racism, members did not think walking out was the right response, said a Vatican official.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the chief Vatican representative to UN agencies in Geneva, told Catholic News Service by telephone April 20 it was important for people not to be distracted by the remarks of the Iranian president, whose comments attacking Israel prompted a walkout by dozens of diplomats.

Pope Benedict will see a changed Holy Land

{mosimage}JERUSALEM - Pope Benedict XVI will encounter a Holy Land that has changed greatly since Pope John Paul II visited in 2000.

Pope John Paul arrived in Israel and the Palestinian territories when, despite stumbling blocks in the peace process, the jubilee year celebrations seemed to buoy the Holy Land with a booming tourism industry.

But Pope Benedict will visit amid continued Israeli-Palestinian tensions — months after a controversial Israeli invasion of Gaza and during continuing Palestinian rocket attacks against southern Israeli towns.

Only resurrected Christ can fill emptiness in peoples hearts

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - Christ's resurrection is not a myth or fairy tale; it is the one and only event that has destroyed the root of evil and can fill the emptiness in people's hearts, Pope Benedict XVI said in his Easter message.

But Christ still wants humanity to help affirm his victory by using His weapons of justice, truth, mercy and love to end the suffering in Africa, build peace in the Holy Land and combat hunger and poverty worldwide, he said April 12 in his message "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

John Paul II beatification expected soon

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - They brought flowers and messages to his grave. They sang songs evoking his memory. And they prayed for his beatification.

The fourth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II April 2 was marked by a sense of anticipation following reports that the late pontiff would be beatified on the fifth anniversary next year.