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Palestinian Christians prepare for somber Christmas amid war

It's normally a moment of pure joy for the Rev. Khader Khalilia: the excitement, the giggles, the kisses, as his young daughters — in their Christmas pajamas — open their gifts. But this year, just the thought of it fills Khalilia with guilt.

"I'm struggling," said the Palestinian American pastor of Redeemer-St. John's Lutheran Church in New York. "How can I do it while the Palestinian children are suffering, have no shelter or a place to lay their heads?"

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After approving blessings for same-sex couples, Pope asks Vatican staff to avoid 'rigid ideologies'

Pope Francis urged Vatican bureaucrats Thursday to avoid "rigid ideological positions" that prevent them from understanding today's reality, an appeal made days after he formally allowed priests to bless same-sex couples in a radical change of Vatican policy.

Francis used his annual Christmas greeting to the Holy See hierarchy to encourage the cardinals, bishops and laypeople who run the Vatican to listen to one another and to others so they can evolve to truly offer service to the Catholic Church.

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Project revives Pompeii's ancient art of textile dyeing

A new project inside the Pompeii archaeological site is reviving ancient textile dyeing techniques to show another side of daily life before the city was destroyed by a volcano in A.D. 79

The inspiration comes from frescoes unearthed inside the archaeological site that show winged cupids dyeing cloth, gathering grapes for wine and making perfumes.

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EU commits additional €40 mn to education sector in Lebanon

The European Union has announced an additional 40 million Euros contribution to the education sector in Lebanon to ensure that vulnerable children continue receiving quality education.

"This new support, which will be implemented by UNICEF, will help the most marginalized boys and girls aged 3-18 years in accessing education, by reducing enrollment barriers.," the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon said in a statement.

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Pope approves blessings for same-sex couples that must not resemble marriage

Pope Francis formally approved letting Catholic priests bless same-sex couples, the Vatican announced Monday, a radical shift in policy that aimed at making the church more inclusive while maintaining its strict ban on gay marriage.

But while the Vatican statement was heralded by some as a step toward breaking down discrimination in the Catholic Church, some LGBTQ+ advocates warned it underscored the church's idea that gay couples remain inferior to heterosexual partnerships.

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Pope' 87th birthday closes out big year of efforts to reform church, cement legacy

Pope Francis turned 87 on Sunday, closing out a year that saw big milestones in his efforts to reform the Catholic Church as well as health scares that raise questions about his future as pope.

Francis celebrated his birthday with cake during a festive audience with children Sunday morning, and there were "Happy Birthday" banners in St. Peter's Square during his weekly noon blessing.

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Hawaii's Big Island volcano sacred to spirituals, treasured by astronomers

Shane Palacat-Nelsen's voice drops to a reverent tone as he tells the story of the snow goddess Poliahu who Native Hawaiians believe inhabits the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest point in Hawaii.

The tale, repeated in Hawaiian families over generations, speaks of a chief who yearned to court Poliahu but was stopped by her attendants guarding the sacred mountain top — the abode of the gods, cradle of creation and gateway to the divine.

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Arab diva Umm Kalthoum helps Arabs, Jews to heal war wounds

Love songs of Egyptian diva Umm Kalthoum boom across the Tel Aviv theatre where Arabs and Jews seek solace from the deadly Hamas-Israel war raging only miles away.

"On stage three Jews and three Arabs deliver their lines in Hebrew and sing in Arabic," said play director Igal Ezraty.

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Crowds bundle up to take snowy photos of Beijing's imperial-era architecture

Throngs of people in down parkas and boots climbed a hill that overlooks the Forbidden City this week to jostle with others trying to get a shot of the snow-covered roofs of the former imperial palace.

For many people in Beijing, a snowfall means it's time to bundle up and head out to take photos of a city dotted with traditional architecture from the Ming and Qing dynasties that ruled the country for more than five centuries.

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Lebanon crises have 'devastating' effect on children, UNICEF says

Lebanon's compounding crises are having a "devastating" impact on children and their education, a United Nations agency said, warning of additional pressure as the Israel-Hamas war spills over into the country.

U.N. children's agency UNICEF said more than a quarter of households surveyed last month reported children not attending school, compared to 18 percent in April.

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