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80 nations (but not the U.S.) are set to destroy cluster bomb arsenals

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Eighty signatories of a new international convention banning cluster bombs are set to meet in Berlin to begin the destruction of these indiscriminate weapons even before the accord has entered into force. On June 25 and 26, delegations from more than 80 countries will meet in the German capital to discuss plans for stockpile destruction.

Pope Benedict, Marilyn Manson, Eminem?

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What do Pope Benedict XVI, Marilyn Manson, Eminem and U2 have in common? They all have record deals with the British music label, Geffen UK.

The pope and Vatican priests will record Christmas music and prayers, according to the UK's Daily Mirror. "Everyone thought it was a wind-up when we got a call from the Vatican. But it was the pope's representative inviting us to Rome. Two senior managers flew out. The pope wasn't there in person, sadly. But we didn't hesitate to offer His Holiness a deal," the newspaper quoted a source at the London-based record label.

No word on whether the pope will go on tour.

Catholic Islam experts like Obama initiatives

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Middle East Catholic leasders are meeting in Venice for a conference on tradition in Christianity and Islam.

Of course, the topic of U.S. initiatives in the Islamic world were bound to surface. And what a Catholic News Service reporter found was that Catholics who live among Muslims are giving President Obama high marks for his Cairo speech and his outreach to the Muslim world.

On Iran, Obama has it right, the right doesn't

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In his just concluded press conference, President Obama used the strongest language so far regarding the turmoil in Iran. “Appalled,” is a strong adjective. But, he was at pains to focus his condemnatory stance not at the election itself but at the violence against the protesters who are, he reminded us, exercising universally acknowledged rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

Third round of nuclear reduction talks opens in Geneva

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The Russian media is keeping up with U.S., Russian nuclear disarmament talks, even in you are not seeing much on your local evening news.

According to this Russian press report, the third round of comprehensive Russia-U.S. talks on a new strategic arms reduction pact opened Monday in Geneva. The first two rounds of Russia-U.S. arms reduction talks were held on May 19-20 in Moscow and on June 1-3 in Geneva.

The U.S. team of negotiators is led by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, while the Russian delegation is headed by Anatoly Antonov, director of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Security and Disarmament.

"The talks are being held behind closed doors at the U.S. mission [in Geneva]," the source said, adding that they will continue until June 24.

Here's the Russian news report.

SOA legislation up for vote

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SOA Watch, the group founded by Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois to advocate for the closure of the School of Americas (now called Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC) at Fort Benning, Ga., has sent an alert out, saying that Congress is set to vote on an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that would require that the School of the Americas to release the names, ranks, country of origin, courses and dates attended of students and instructors at the institute.

Graduates of the U.S. Army training school have been implicated in human rights violations and deaths of activists and church workers across Latin America.

The vote is to come tomorrow. This is legislation SOA Watch as been working on for quite some time. Read more about it here.

A side note: Fr. Roy is one of the keynote speakers at the Call to Action conference in Milwaukee this November. His address is titled A New Model of Being Church. His address alone would be worth the price of admission.

Vatican's Celestial Eye, Seeking Not Angels but Data

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Here's a good read from today's New York Times.

Last year, in an opening address at a conference in Rome, called “Science 400 Years After Galileo Galilei,” Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state of the Vatican, praised the church’s old antagonist as “a man of faith who saw nature as a book written by God.” In May, as part of the International Year of Astronomy, a Jesuit cultural center in Florence conducted “a historical, philosophical and theological re-examination” of the Galileo affair. But in the effort to rehabilitate the church’s image, nothing speaks louder than a paper by a Vatican astronomer in, say, The Astrophysical Journal or The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Diocesan reconfigurations in a rapidly changing church

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This story about parish closings and openings is quite interesting, especially given the number of states with net closures. It's well beyond just the Northeast. The story has a good graphic/map.

On the positive side, one expert observer notes:

"Even as the frequency of parish suppressions and mergers increases, the Catholic church in America remains strong," said Marti Jewell, the outgoing director of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership, a 6-year-old collaborative effort between six national organizations studying the changing structure of parishes.

The organizations include National Association for Lay Ministry, Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development, National Association for Church Personnel Administrators, National Association of Diaconate Directors, National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association and National Federation of Priests Councils.

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September 12-25, 2014

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