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Pope says Holocaust Remembrance Day reminds world that war can never be justified

Pope Francis recalled the extermination of millions of Jews in calling Wednesday for the upcoming Holocaust Day of Remembrance to reaffirm that war can never be justified and only benefits weapons makers.

At the end of his weekly general audience, Francis referred to Saturday's commemoration, which has become fraught this year given Israel's military campaign in Gaza and a rise in antisemitism in Europe and around the world.

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Millions in India celebrate new Hindu temple built on mosque ruins, in victory for Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday opened a controversial Hindu temple built on the ruins of a historic mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya, in a political triumph for the populist leader who is seeking to transform the country from a secular democracy into a Hindu state.

The temple is dedicated to Hinduism's Lord Ram and fulfills a long-standing demand by millions of Hindus who worship the revered deity and extoll him for the virtues of truth, sacrifice and ethical governance. Modi's party and other Hindu nationalist groups who seized on the demand have portrayed the temple as central to their vision of reclaiming Hindu pride, which they say was suppressed by centuries of Mughal rule and British colonialism.

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What are sacred forests?

Sacred forests and groves are primeval woodlands that different faith communities around the world have safeguarded for centuries as abodes of the spiritual or the divine.

Thousands of sacred forests have survived. They're the church forests in Ethiopia's highlands, hillside groves considered holy by Catholics in Italy, woodlands revered by Shinto practitioners in Japan and Indigenous people in Siberia, Australia, the Americas and India.

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Mikati meets Aram I, day ahead of Armenian Christmas

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati met Friday with head of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, in Antelias.

Mikati and Aram I discussed issues and challenges facing Lebanon, particularly the situation in the South of Lebanon, the presidential election, and the socio-economic crisis facing the country, the Armenian Church Catholicosate of Cilicia said.

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Lebanon targets UNESCO register for Tele Liban’s archive

For decades, Tele Liban has been a mainstay of Lebanese living rooms. Now the country is seeking UNESCO recognition for the archives of its pioneering Arab broadcaster.

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World population up 75 million this year, standing at 8 billion on Jan. 1

The world population grew by 75 million people over the past year and on New Year's Day it will stand at more than 8 billion people, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday.

The worldwide growth rate in the past year was just under 1%. At the start of 2024, 4.3 births and two deaths are expected worldwide every second, according to the Census Bureau figures.

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Jerusalem's Armenians vow to keep up fight against 'settler' project

Residents of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem's historic Armenian quarter rapidly mobilized when bulldozers rolled in to start work on a luxury hotel, a project they fear threatens the ancient but dwindling community.

The real estate deal which gives an Australian-Israeli investor roughly 25 percent of the Old City's Armenian quarter has sparked anger and concern among its residents.

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Head of Lebanon's tiny Jewish community dies

The former president of Lebanon's tiny Jewish community, who had pushed for the rehabilitation of Beirut's abandoned synagogue, has died, his family and the community's lawyer told AFP on Wednesday.

Isaac Arazi, 80, who headed the Lebanese Jewish Community Council, "died on Tuesday and was buried the same day," lawyer Bassem el-Hout said.

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Pope Francis denounces the weapons industry as he makes a Christmas appeal for peace in the world

Pope Francis has blasted the weapons industry and its "instruments of death" that fuel wars as he made a Christmas Day appeal for peace in the world and in particular between Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking from the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica to the throngs of people below, Francis said he grieved the "abominable attack" of Hamas against southern Israel on Oct. 7 and called for the release of hostages. And he begged for an end to Israel's military campaign in Gaza and the "appalling harvest of innocent civilians" as he called for humanitarian aid to reach those in need.

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Ukraine celebrates Christmas on Dec. 25, distancing itself from Russia

Christmas carried more than spiritual weight for many Ukrainians this year as the country newly observed it as a public holiday on Dec. 25 rather than the later date followed in Russia.

The change, enacted in legislation signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in July, reflects both Ukrainians' dismay with the 22-month-old Russian invasion and their assertion of a national identity.

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