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Pope Meets Christian Sentenced to Death for Faith
ROME - Pope Francis has met privately with a Sudanese woman who refused to recant her Christian faith in the face of a death sentence, blessing the woman as she cradled her infant daughter born just weeks ago in prison.
     The Vatican characterized the visit with 27-year-old Meriam Ibrahim, her husband and their two small children as "very affectionate." Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the pope "thanked her for her faith and courage, and she thanked him for his prayer and solidarity."
     Ibrahim arrived earlier Thursday in Rome, greeted by Italy's premier, en route to the United States, where her husband has citizenship.
     Italy along with the United States worked for her release. An Italian diplomat who accompanied the family from Sudan said Italy was able to leverage its ties within the region.
 
 
NH Relative Welcomes Woman's Release from Sudan
MANCHESTER, N.H. - The New Hampshire brother-in-law of Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman once sentenced to death for refusing to recant her Christian faith, says he's happy that she's now in Italy, en route to the United States.
     Gabriel Wani said he was waiting to hear from his brother, Daniel Wani, about the family's travel plans but expected them to come to his home in Manchester.
     The pastor of the Sudanese Evangelical Covenant Church in Manchester says he and Gabriel Wani are talking about holding a welcome-home celebration.
     Ibrahim faced execution for apostasy because she married a Christian. Her death sentence was overturned in June, and she arrived Thursday in Rome, where she met with Pope Francis. Ibrahim, the daughter of a Muslim father and a Christian mother, was accompanied by her husband and two children, including an infant born in prison.
 
 
Iraqis: Jihadis Destroy Ancient Mosque in Mosul
BAGHDAD - Residents of the Iraqi city of Mosul say Islamic extremist militants have blown up a revered Muslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of the biblical Prophet Jonah.
     The residents say the Islamic State militants, who overran Mosul in June and imposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law on the city, ordered everyone out of the Prophet Younis Mosque and Shrine on Thursday, then blew it up.
     The mosque was built on an archaeological site dating back to 8th century BC. It was renovated in the 1990's under Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
     In Washington, for the second time this week, Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf accused the Islamic militants of committing genocide against Mosul's Christians. Virtually all of the city's ancient Christian community has fled to Iraq's Kurdish region after being threatened with death if they refused to convert to Islam.

 
Churches Seek Reinstatement of Gay Marriage Bans
INDIANAPOLIS - Opponents of same-sex marriage cite political theory, social stability and even biblical text in legal briefs filed this week in federal court, where Indiana and Wisconsin are appealing rulings that overthrew their bans on gay weddings.
     At least 20 briefs have been filed in the case that's currently before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
     A brief filed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and The Lutheran Church's Missouri Synod says God established marriage as the union of a man and a woman. They argue that overturning laws against same-sex marriage because they're rooted in religious tradition deprives a huge number of people of their right to participate in democracy.
     Another brief filed by the attorneys general of 10 states argues that society should decide whether same-sex marriage is acceptable, not the courts.
 
 
Eau Canada: Caravan Totes Water to Detroit
DETROIT - A caravan of Canadians has brought jugs containing 1,000 liters of water to a Detroit church in a symbolic protest against the bankrupt city shutting off water to residents who haven't paid their bills.
     Eleven vehicles passed through the Detroit Windsor Tunnel under the Detroit River. The Canadians rallied outside City Hall before heading for St. Peter's Episcopal Church to deliver the water. The Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman said the water will be stored behind the church's sanctuary for people needing water after city shutoffs.
     Wylie-Kellerman said his church will be a water station and said there will be several more like it in the city.
     The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has stepped up collection efforts for residential and business water service, and water shutoffs rose from 500 in March to 7,200 in June. Through June, more than 90,000 residential and business customers owed nearly $90 million.
 
 
Maine Catholics Sell Property as Attendance Falls
PORTLAND, Maine - Maine's Catholic churches are selling off properties as the Diocese of Portland grapples with declining church attendance and a surplus of under-used buildings.
     Parishes in the diocese have more than 20 churches, convents, rectories and schools on the market. Church leaders say a dozen properties in the diocese have sold for a total of more than $2.4 million since the beginning of 2013.
     Some of the sold churches are nearly as old as the diocese itself, which began in 1853. Father James Lafontaine, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Portland, said the need to sell churches is hard for parishioners, who associate the buildings with generations of baptisms, weddings, and funerals.
     The diocese counts less than 200,000 Catholic, a decline of nearly 30 percent from 30 years ago, but Catholics are still the largest religious denomination in Maine.
 
 
Appeals Court Upholds Priest's Sentence
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A federal appeals court has upheld the 50-year prison sentence for a former Kansas City priest convicted on child pornography charges.
     The Kansas City Star reports that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sentence of 48-year-old Shawn Ratigan, who pleaded guilty to federal charges of producing and attempting to produce child pornography. Ratigan was sentenced last year and argued on appeal that the sentence was unreasonable.
     The appeals panel ruled that U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner did not commit procedural error or abuse his discretion in imposing the sentence that prosecutors sought.
     Ratigan is imprisoned in Missouri after pleading guilty to state child pornography charges and is serving the 21-year state sentence concurrently with the 50-year federal term.
 
 
Ex-Radio Host Signs Plea Deal in Child Porn Probe
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A former host at a popular Christian radio station in western Michigan plans to plead guilty in a child pornography investigation.
     Prosecutors say John Balyo is due in Grand Rapids federal court Tuesday, just weeks after his arrest on state charges at a Christian music festival in Gaylord.
     The 35-year-old Balyo is charged with sexual exploitation and possessing child pornography. His signed plea deal was filed in court Thursday.
     Balyo faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison but his sentence could be longer. He was a host at Christian radio station WCSG in Grand Rapids before his arrest in June. He's being held in the Calhoun County jail on state charges of criminal sexual conduct.

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