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Pope Francis on Sept. 2 told his followers to clamber down from their lofty skyscrapers, reclaim public spaces, and rejoin communities.

Speaking at his weekly public audience at the Vatican, the pope said it was up to families to rejuvenate cities.

There may be a lot of ways to spend one’s free time in a city, but love is missing, Francis said.

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Pope Francis leads the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross) procession, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, at the Colosseum in Rome on April 3, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Despite Luther being thrown out of the Catholic Church during his lifetime, the Vatican reacted positively to news of the square’s upcoming inauguration.

“It’s a decision taken by Rome city hall which is favorable to Catholics in that it’s in line with the path of dialogue started with the ecumenical council,” said the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican press office, referring to a gathering of churchmen to rule on faith matters.

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Sister Simone Campbell speaks during 2012 “Nuns on the Bus” tour. Photo via Network / RNS

Over the course of two weeks, starting on Sept. 10 in St. Louis, Campbell and nearly a dozen nuns will travel some 2,000 miles through seven states — Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia — that are marked by sharp political divides.

“The route is not to our base,” she said, contrasting this trip with previous ones that often stopped in cities and towns with communities receptive to the Catholic social justice message.

“We’re going to places where there are differences of opinion, to nourish conversations about the serious work of governance.”

Screenshot of the Patrum app. Image via RNS/iTunes

The free English-language Patrum app showcases a selection of works at the Vatican Museums, featuring everything from an Etruscan tomb to 13th-century Chinese scrolls. The brief descriptions are accompanied by other articles detailing daily life at the Vatican Museums. App users are invited to join the conversation through the comment and chat sections.

Art lovers can also tailor their own profiles by picking out their favorite works, allowing them to receive specific updates and chat with others who express interest in the same pieces. While there are other apps that serve as virtual tour guides to Vatican treasures, that is not Patrum’s intent — its layout does not correspond to the museums’ vast network of corridors.

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Pope Francis. Photo via Philip Chidell / Shutterstock.com

Speaking out on one of the most contentious issues of his papacy, Pope Francis on Aug. 5 issued a powerful call for the church to embrace Catholics who have divorced and remarried, telling a gathering at the Vatican that such couples “are not excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way!”

“The church is called to be always the open house of the Father … no closed doors! No closed doors!” Francis told the crowd at his weekly public audience, which resumed after a month-long summer break.

REUTERS / Wolfgang Rattay/ RNS

Photo via REUTERS / Wolfgang Rattay/ RNS

A German Catholic diocese wants to take episcopal responsibility to a new level by making its disgraced former “bishop of bling” responsible for the 3.9 million euros ($4.9 million) in losses incurred during the luxury makeover of his residence and office.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst earned the “bling” label in 2013 when aides revealed he had spent 31 million euros ($34 million) — over six times the original estimate — on the stately complex opposite the Romanesque cathedral in Limburg, north of Frankfurt.

The Vatican banished him from the diocese several months later and, subsequently, quietly reassigned him to a low-profile post in the Roman Curia. He seemed to be going the way of other failed bishops, such as the few punished in the clerical sexual abuse scandals by being removed from their dioceses

neneo / Shutterstock

Photo via neneo / Shutterstock

Growing conservative disaffection with Pope Francis appears to be taking a toll on his once teflon-grade popularity in the U.S., with a new Gallup poll showing the pontiff’s favorability rating among all Americans dropping to 59 percent from a 76 percent peak early last year.

Among conservatives the dropoff has been especially sharp: just 45 percent view Francis favorably today as opposed to 72 percent a year ago.

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Sunset over the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Photo via Vladimir Wrangel / Shutterstock.com

On July 21 and 22, the Vatican hosts two conferences on human trafficking and climate change, bringing the mayors of major cities — including several in the U.S. — to Rome for the events. What do human trafficking and climate change have to do with each other? And what does Catholicism have to do with them? Let us explain.

Q: Why is the Vatican concerned with human trafficking and climate change?

A: If Pope Francis has two pet issues, they are human trafficking and climate change. Since the first year of his papacy he has spoken against human trafficking, calling it “a crime against humanity” and lamenting it as modern slavery. It’s an even bet that when the pope addresses the United Nations in late September he will hammer it as one of the crucial issues of our time. Ditto on climate change. In June, the pontiff published his encyclical — the highest teaching of the church — on climate change.

“Our home is being ruined and that hurts everyone, especially the poorest among us,” Francis said just before the publication of the encyclical.

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Cardinal Peter Turkson poses as he holds Pope Francis’ new encyclical titled “Laudato Si’ (Be Praised): On Care of Our Common Home” during the presentation news conference at the Vatican on June 18, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Max Rossi / RNS

The Vatican is calling on bishops globally to act on the pope’s groundbreaking environmental encyclical, Cardinal Peter Turkson said in an interview.

Last week, bishops’ conferences across the world were sent a message urging them to speak up about the message of the papal letter, which called for greater action on the environment, said Turkson, who is president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

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Pope Francis waves as he leaves at the end of a two-day pastoral visit in Turin, Italy, on June 22, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Giorgio Perottino / RNS

The Vatican on June 30 released details of Pope Francis’ itinerary for his Sept. 22-27 U.S. visit, his first, and it shows how this “pope of the people” wants to avoid becoming a prisoner of the East Coast “power corridor” during his five days in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia.

For example, organizers have added visits to a Catholic Charities food program in downtown Washington, a Catholic school in Harlem that serves largely Latino immigrant children, and a prison in Philadelphia to meet with inmates and some of their families.

Photo via Orlando Barria / Catholic News Service / RNS

Jozef Wesolowski. Photo via Orlando Barria / Catholic News Service / RNS

In an unprecedented move, the Vatican on June 15 announced its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, would stand trial on charges he paid for sex with children.

Wesolowski, 66, who had the title archbishop during his five-year post in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic capital, was recalled to the Vatican in 2013. He was later the first person to be arrested inside the Vatican on child abuse charges.

He also faces charges of possessing child pornography during his stay at the Holy See and ahead of his arrest in September 2014, the Vatican said in a statement.

Photo by REUTERS / Amir Cohen / RNS

Pope Francis and Israel’s President Shimon Peres plant an olive tree in Jerusalem. Photo by REUTERS / Amir Cohen / RNS

People must change their lifestyles and attitudes to help defeat hunger, Pope Francis said June 11, a hint of what may be coming in his much-anticipated environmental encyclical next week.

“We must begin with our daily lives if we want to change lifestyles, aware that our small gestures can guarantee sustainability and the future of the human family,” said Francis, addressing delegates at a conference hosted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Photo via REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / RNS

Pope Francis speaks with young people in Sarajevo, on June 6, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / RNS

Pope Francis has approved the first-ever system for judging, and possibly deposing, bishops who fail to protect children from abusive clerics, a major step in responding to Catholics who have been furious that guilty priests have been defrocked while bishops have largely escaped punishment.

The five-point plan on accountability for bishops originated with the special sex abuse commission that Francis set up to deal with the ongoing crisis, and after some modifications, his nine–member Council of Cardinals signed off on it and Francis gave his final blessing to it on June 10.

Photo via Rosie Scammell / RNS

The Vatican's new Arabic-language guidebook. Photo via Rosie Scammell / RNS

The Vatican has released a new Arabic-language guidebook, the first of its kind, which aims to bring the culture of the Catholic Church to a new audience.

Titled The Vatican, its Significance and its Monuments, the guidebook hit bookstores around the Holy See late last month and goes beyond sightseeing tips.

The book’s author, Edmond Farhat, said he was compelled to write the guide after a lengthy diplomatic career representing the Vatican across North Africa.

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Pope Francis on his flight from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, to Rome on June 6, 2015. Photo via REUTERS/Luca Zennaro/Pool/RNS

Pope Francis has decried the “filth” of online pornography and warned people against wasting time on their computers.

Speaking aboard the papal plane after his visit on June 6 to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capital of Sarajevo, the pontiff took a two-pronged approach to modern technology.

“There are two different elements here: method and content,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.

“Regarding the method or way of doing things, there is one that is bad for the soul, and that is being too attached to the computer.”

Photo via REUTERS / Alberto Pizzoli / Reuters / RNS

Pope Francis talks with Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet on June 5, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Alberto Pizzoli / Reuters / RNS

Pope Francis on June 5 met Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, while outside in St. Peter’s Square anti-abortion protesters drew attention to one of the most controversial topics up for discussion between the two leaders.

The meeting centered around “issues of common interest” such as education and “social peace,” as a Vatican statement put it. But the most contentious topic in play was “the protection of human life,” a nod to the traditionally Catholic country’s strict abortion law, which Bachelet is trying to modify.

Earlier this year, the Chilean leader proposed changes to allow abortions in cases of rape or if a woman’s life was in danger.

Photo via beboy / Shutterstock.com

Photo via beboy / Shutterstock.com

A new report mapping the Catholic Church’s more than 1.2 billion souls — on track to reach 1.64 billion by 2050 — holds some surprises.

And not all bode well for the church’s future as it faces major demographic and social shifts.

Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts,” released June 1 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, looks at seven regions of the world. It wraps the United States, Mexico, and Canada in with Central and South America as simply the Americas.

Photo via REUTERS / Max Rossi / RNS

Pope Francis blesses a child at the Vatican on March 14, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Max Rossi / RNS

Pope Francis wants to treat the children of Italian prisoners to a train ride within the Vatican walls, a gesture intended to draw Catholics’ attention to Jesus’ command to minister to prisoners and the poor.

On May 30, Vatican guards will open a great iron gate to the “Children’s Train,” which will travel along the city-state’s only branch line for an appointment with the pope.

The chosen passengers are the prisoners’ children from Rome, Latina, Bari, and Trani.

They will have a midday meeting with Francis and will be given colored kites.

Photo via UK in Italy via Flickr / RNS

Lord Christopher Patten during the XXII Pontignano Conference. Photo via UK in Italy via Flickr / RNS

The Vatican is dragging its media machine into the 21st century, promising to promote social media and streamline its fragmented services with the help of a former BBC executive.

Lord Christopher Patten, former chairman of the BBC Trust, on May 27 outlined reform plans nearly a year after being appointed chief of the pope’s media committee.

Addressing journalists at St. Patrick’s church in central London, Patten highlighted “wasteful” duplications of media services at the Vatican and said modernization was imperative.

Photo via REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

Australian Cardinal George Pell arrives for a meeting in the Vatican on March 6, 2013. Photo via REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

More than 55,000 people have signed a petition calling for Cardinal George Pell to return to his native Australia and face a government commission on child sex abuse, after allegations that he tried to bribe the victim of a pedophile priest.

Addressed to Pope Francis, the Change.org petition calls for Pell — the Vatican’s financial chief and former archbishop of Sydney — to answer questions from Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

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