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Pope Francis is helping church reach world's 'seekers,' speakers say

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As the second anniversary of Pope Francis' election approached, an international group of philosophers, sociologists and theologians gathered to discuss how to renew the church in a secular age; many said that is exactly what Pope Francis is doing.

"I think the church had gotten into the stance of defending itself against its critics and trying to convince them, but that's not a stance of dialogue. Pope Francis is going out and reaching out," said Charles Taylor, professor emeritus of philosophy at Canada's McGill University.

Italy and Vatican on guard after threat from Islamic State

The Italian government is on high alert after threats from the Islamic State called Italy "the nation signed with the blood of the cross."

Italy is one of a handful of major Western counties that has not been victim of a large-scale terror assault since the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

Italian officials fear extremists could enter the country amid the growing tide of refugees arriving by boat from North Africa. About 500 extra troops have been stationed to guard symbolic targets in Rome and monitor the streets of the capital for suspicious activity.

Pope Francis: During Lent, return with tears to God's loving embrace

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Lent is a journey of purification and penance, a movement that should bring one tearfully back to the loving arms of the merciful Father, Pope Francis said at an Ash Wednesday Mass that began with a procession on Rome's Aventine Hill.

After walking from the Benedictine monastery of St. Anselm to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Wednesday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass. He received ashes on the top of his head from Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, and distributed ashes to the Benedictines, the Dominicans, his closest aides and a family of five.

Nigerian bishop calls for Western intervention to stop Boko Haram

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Underlining the failure of the Nigerian government to stop the violent rampage of Boko Haram, a Catholic bishop has called for Western military intervention.

The Muslim militant group's increasingly deadly assaults and expanded recruitment from countries across North Africa mean "a concerted military campaign is needed by the West to crush Boko Haram," said Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri, capital of the troubled Borno state.

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