Sylvia Poggioli

Voters in Spain's northern region of Catalonia go to the polls Sunday in a parliamentary election that is shaping up as an unofficial referendum on secession. The current Catalan president has pledged to pursue a move toward independence if re-elected.

The region, which holds 8 million people, is the country's industrial engine. Catalans are resentful that their taxes are being siphoned off for poorer regions. The prospect of secession is opposed both by the Madrid government and the European Union.

'We Are Not Spaniards'

Already this year, 105 women in Italy have been killed by husbands or boyfriends –- present or former.

Vanessa Scialfa, 29, was killed by her partner in Sicily. Alessia Francesca Simonetta, 25, was pregnant when she was stabbed to death by her boyfriend in Milan. Carmella Petrucci, 17, was stabbed in the throat as she tried to defend her sister from her ex-boyfriend.

Police inspector Francesca Monaldi, who heads the gender crime unit in Rome, says the names and the cities change, but the stories are very similar.

Circumcisions have been virtually suspended in Germany for the past four months. The practice was effectively banned after a regional court in Cologne ruled that circumcision amounts to assault.

That controversial ruling this summer alienated the country's 120,000 registered Jews and 4 million Muslims, who saw it as a violation of religious freedom. It also fueled accusations of intolerance in a country still haunted by its Nazi past.

The spread of neo-Nazi influence in Germany came to light fully last year with the shocking discovery of a neo-Nazi terrorist cell responsible for the worst right-wing violence since World War II.

At least nine people of migrant origin were murdered, and there were bomb attacks and bank robberies.

In response, Germany last month established the first centralized neo-Nazi database, similar to those that existed for decades for Islamic and leftist extremists.

At Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, 50 years ago this week, the newly elected pontiff stunned the world by calling the first Catholic Church Council in nearly a century — the Second Vatican Council, or what's known as Vatican II.

Pope John XXIII called for the institution's renewal and more interaction with the modern world.

As a result of Vatican II, the Catholic Church opened its windows onto the modern world, updated the liturgy, gave a larger role to laypeople, introduced the concept of religious freedom and started a dialogue with other religions.

Germany's bishops have a clear message for the country's 25 million Catholics: The road to heaven requires more than faith and good intentions; it requires tax payments, too.

Last month, German bishops warned that if members of the Catholic Church don't pay the country's church tax, they'll be denied the sacraments — including baptisms, weddings and funerals.

In increasingly secular Europe, Germany is one of the few countries where the state collects a special levy from tax-registered believers and hands it over to three organized faiths.

Automaker Fiat announced its commitment to remain in Italy after a meeting Saturday between the company's CEO and the country's president.

Fiat had threatened to shut down its operations in Italy unless it received additional state assistance. The crisis came at a time the entire country is undergoing a steep decline across all industrial sectors.

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