Sylvia Poggioli

One of the greatest rifts in Christianity — between Catholics and Lutherans — isn't what it used to be. As a sign of those much improved relations, Pope Francis is traveling Monday to Sweden, an overwhelmingly Lutheran country, to kick off a yearlong commemoration of the Protestant Reformation that split the churches 500 years ago.

Alongside the massive, rising death toll in territories controlled by the Islamic State, one of the major casualties has been a trove of ancient treasures that are part of the Middle East's cultural heritage.

Now, replicas of several masterpieces vandalized or destroyed in Syria and Iraq have been created in Italy and are part of a UNESCO-sponsored exhibit called "Rising from Destruction." The exhibit, which goes through Dec. 16, has been set up in the Colosseum, the most visited site in Rome, drawing 6.5 million tourists a year.

As Europe reels from the effects of the United Kingdom's Brexit vote, there's fresh anxiety about another referendum coming up in a major EU country.

It won't be a vote on whether to remain or to leave the European Union, but on Italy's constitutional reform package. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says the reforms — which would simplify and accelerate the passage of laws — are long overdue and will finally bring an end to decades of his country's notorious revolving-door governments.

Pope Francis begins a visit to Armenia on Friday, one of the "peripheries" of the world that are dear to him. He arrived in the capital, Yerevan, on Friday afternoon, and will spend three days in the small country whose geography made it a land of conquest by powerful empires and whose people have greatly suffered for their Christian religion.

The visit will highlight the strong ecumenical ties between the majority Orthodox and smaller Catholic Christian communities, as well as promote reconciliation in a tense region that straddles Europe, the Middle East and Russia.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

All across the Mediterranean, early Christian frescoes and bas reliefs carry the names of women deacons and even bishops — such as Phoebe, Helaria, Ausonia, Euphemia and Theodora.

Yet in 1994, Pope John Paul II not only decreed that women are definitively excluded from the priesthood, he even banned all discussion of the topic.

Pope Francis broke that taboo last month when he announced he would create a commission to study whether women can serve as deacons as they did in early Christianity.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Rome's vast Piazza del Popolo, two uniformed men try to help a German tourist with directions. And, as is all too common in Rome, instructions get lost in translation.

But it's the men's uniforms that leave the woman more perplexed. The cops assisting her are not Italian. They're Chinese.

They're part of an unprecedented experiment in which Italian and Chinese police are working together this month on joint patrols on the streets of Rome and Milan.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Obama is in Germany discussing European problems, but it's hard to miss his references to politics here.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Here's the president at a press conference yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When Pope Francis travels to the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, he will likely bring with him a sharp rebuke for Europe's response to the migrant crisis.

The town of Riace lies near the toe of Italy's boot. Small shops line its winding, cobblestone streets. It's perched on a hilltop, a typical medieval village with a church at its center.

But there is nothing typical about Riace's people. Out of a population of 1,800, 450 are former refugees. Their children outnumber native Italians at the local school. Riace now calls itself a global village, whose residents come from more than 20 countries beyond Europe.

A private funeral is being held Friday in Fiumicello, the northern Italian hometown of a doctoral student whose badly battered body was found Feb. 3 on the outskirts of Egypt's capital, Cairo.

The case has sparked outrage among Italians — who suspect Egyptian security forces were involved.

Same-sex marriage or civil unions are legal throughout Western Europe, including many traditionally Catholic countries. The last holdout is Italy, where the Senate is about to take up a bill on Thursday that would legalize civil unions — though it would not authorize gay marriage.

Tens of thousands of Italians took to the streets last weekend in some 100 cities demanding legalization of civil unions, including those of gay and lesbian couples.

"Italy, it's time to wake up," they shouted.

In winter, Rome has one of the mildest climates among European cities. It attracts not only off-season tourists, but also migratory birds such as starlings, which may be outliving their welcome.

For much of the day, Rome's visiting starling population feeds in olive groves in the countryside. Well-fed, they start making their presence in the city known in midafternoon.

That's when walking under tree-lined streets becomes dangerous.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

On Monday, Pope Francis returned to Rome from his six-day, three-nation tour of Africa. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli was among the media traveling with the pope. And she sent us these thoughts on her experience.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A half-century ago, 40 bishops from around the world gathered in an ancient Roman church and signed a pledge to forsake worldly goods and live like the neediest among their flock.

They were in Rome for the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the deliberations that opened the Catholic Church to the modern world.

The bishops' all but forgotten pledge, known as the Pact of the Catacombs, has gained new resonance with Pope Francis' vision of a church for the poor.

On Thursday, Maamoun Abdulkarim came to address the Italian Parliament regarding the plight of Syria's 10,000 archaeological sites. Italy has been active in helping protect antiquities in conflict zones.

Abdulkarim, the head of Syria's antiquities agency, says that 99 percent of museum collections — some 300,000 museum pieces — have been salvaged, but civil war has still caused massive damage.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of the issuance of the most radical document by the Second Vatican Council.

It's called Nostra Aetate, or "In Our Times," and it opened up relations between Catholicism and non-Christian religions. The landmark document repudiated anti-Semitism and the charge that Jews were collectively guilty for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Vatican Synod Ends

Oct 25, 2015

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Inside the Vatican City, a contentious bishops meeting has come to a close. The bishops were hashing out big issues like how the church deals with divorce and gay marriage. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli says progressives and conservatives scored points.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

About half an hour after takeoff from Philadelphia and a grueling, nine-day visit to Cuba and the United States, Pope Francis looked tired Sunday night when he appeared before reporters. He suffers from sciatica, and it was visible this week that he was having difficulty walking up stairs and standing for a long time.

Nevertheless, he took questions for close to an hour.

The pope was asked about an issue that had angered victims of clerical sex abuse: Why did he choose to show strong compassion for American bishops in one of his first speeches in the U.S.?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Pope Francis is now back at the Vatican after his nine-day trip to Cuba and the United States. It was a grueling schedule, and the pope on his plane en route home gave a press conference. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli was on that plane. She is now back in Rome and on the line. Sylvia, good morning.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what - what did the Pope say? What did he think of his trip to the U.S.?

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Pope Francis is in Philadelphia this evening celebrating the final mass of his visit to the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASS)

Competition to get admitted to the papal trip to Cuba and the U.S. was fierce: Some 140 reporters and photographers applied for the 76 seats available for print, radio and TV journalists. I strategized for much of June on the best way to secure one of them.

On the day the decision was announced, those who were rejected received politely written emails expressing regrets from the Vatican spokesman. Those who were admitted learned of it only by going to the Vatican press room to see the list pinned on the bulletin board.

Pages