Pope to Meet with Homeless, Prisoners, Immigrants
VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis will meet with homeless people, immigrants and prisoners during his upcoming trip to Cuba and the U.S.
He'll also preside over a meeting about religious liberty, a major topic for the U.S. Catholic Church in the wake of the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision.
The Vatican has published the pontiff's itinerary for the Sept. 19-28 visit.
Francis added the Cuba leg onto the U.S. trip at the last minute after helping contribute to the historic thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.
In the U.S., he will meet with President Obama at the White House and become the first pope to address Congress. He will host an interfaith gathering at Ground Zero in New York and deliver a speech on sustainable development at the United Nations.
The last days of the pope's visit he will be in Philadelphia to celebrates a Mass, visit a prison and Independence Mall, and greet organizers and volunteers connected with the World Meeting of Families.
Vatican Doesn't Rule Put Pope Chews Coca
VATICAN CITY - The Vatican isn't ruling out that Pope Francis might chew coca leaves, or at least sip tea made from them, to fend off altitude sickness when he arrives in Bolivia next week.
Francis embarks on a South American tour Sunday that will take him to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. He's due to land Wednesday at La Paz airport, 4,000 meters above sea level.
Bolivian Culture Minister Marko Machicao told local media that Francis had asked to chew coca leaves upon arrival. Coca is legal in Bolivia and is considered a mild stimulant similar to coffee, but is banned by most countries because it's the raw material for cocaine.
A Vatican spokesman says: "The pope will do what he thinks is right."
Service Honors Last of Charleston Shooting Victims
CHARLESTON, S.C. - There's been another service for a victim of the recent shooting at a predominantly black Charleston church.
Public officials paid tribute to longtime pastor Daniel L. Simmons Sr. yesterday at Greater St. Luke AME Church in the city. Gov. Nikki Haley said the pain of the shootings won't stop just because it's the final service.
The Post and Courier of Charleston quotes Haley as telling the audience the Confederate flag will come down, adding that when it does, the families of the victims will be at peace.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley suggested to the audience that a proposed International African American Museum will someday have an exhibit featuring the victims of the shootings at Emanuel AME Church.
Firefighters Battled Blaze at Black Church in SC
GREELEYVILLE, S.C. - There's been a fire at a prominent black church in South Carolina.
The Post and Courier newspaper reports that crews Tuesday night battled a fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville. The church was burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995.
A State Law Enforcement Division official tells the paper that the fire could have been started by lightning.
Federal authorities are investigating recent fires at predominantly black churches, though the blazes do not appear to be related.
Lawsuit Challenges Religious Objections Order
BATON ROUGE, La. - A lawsuit has been filed challenging Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's executive order that aims to give special protections to people who oppose same-sex marriage.
Gay rights advocates argue that it's unconstitutional and should be thrown out.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, the Forum for Equality Foundation and six New Orleans residents are challenging the governor's May 19 order in state court in Baton Rouge.
Jindal, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, describes the legal challenge as a "left wing lawsuit." He says religious liberty is fundamental to "our freedom as Americans," and he won't back down from defending it.
Judge Blocks Florida Abortion Waiting Period
TALLAHASSEE, Florida - A Florida judge has blocked a new state law that requires women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion, but state officials quickly appealed the decision.
Judge Charles Francis ruled one day before the waiting period was scheduled to take effect. Francis is chief judge for the north Florida circuit that includes the state capital.
Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed the decision, which under court procedures stayed the ruling. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said it intended to ask Francis to reinstate his injunction on Tuesday evening.
Supporters of the law said it would create a reflective period that they hoped would change some women's minds before ending their pregnancies.
Democrats in the state legislature had complained the bill was simply an effort to put up roadblocks to infringe on women's rights to an abortion.
Lawmakers Want Justices Impeached over 10 Commandments
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma's highest court says a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol is a religious symbol -- and has to be removed. The court says it violates the state constitution's ban on using public property to benefit a religion.
The granite monument was privately funded by a Republican state lawmaker.
Some Republicans are now calling for the impeachment of the seven justices who said the monument must be removed.
The state's attorney general, Scott Pruitt, had argued that the monument was historical in nature and nearly identical to a Texas monument that was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
He also suggested the provision in the Oklahoma Constitution that prohibits the use of public money for religious purposes may need to be repealed.
Poll Asks Young Catholics about Their Beliefs
WASHINGTON - A new poll asks Catholic members of the millennial generation about their beliefs and how they square with some major social issues.
The poll found that 82 percent of those surveyed believe abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances. Seventy-seven percent agreed that all women should have the same access to no-cost birth control no matter where they work.
As for gay rights, more than two-thirds of millennial Catholics supported making same-sex marriage legal. Sixty-nine percent said that.
The poll surveyed 819 Catholics ages 18-34 and was sponsored by Catholics For Choice. Spokeswoman Jen Girdish says the poll shows that millennial Catholics have strong convictions about equality and individual freedom for all people.
Woman Sues, Says Police Forced Her to Remove Scarf
DEARBORN, Mich. - A Muslim woman is suing a Michigan police department, saying her rights were violated when she was ordered to remove a headscarf for a mugshot after her arrest.
Maha Aldhalimi was told that she was wanted for an unpaid parking violation. She says she was ordered to remove the headscarf, known as hijab, for a photo at the Dearborn Police Department last September.
Aldhalimi says she was crying while explaining that removing the scarf in front of male strangers would violate her religious beliefs. She says she finally agreed to remove it under threat.
Lawyers for Aldhalimi have filed a lawsuit in Detroit federal court, accusing Dearborn police of violating federal law.
Rebuilt Church Destroyed by Tornado Closes
JOPLIN, Mo. - Dwindling membership has led to the closure of a Joplin church that was rebuilt after being destroyed by a 2011 tornado.
Pastor Sharon Freeman of the St. James United Methodist Church said that when the church reopened in April 2013, members had believed the area around the church also would be rebuilt.
She told The Joplin Globe that hasn't happened, with neighborhoods near the church still undeveloped and a nearby business corridor largely empty.
She called the congregation's vote to close the church a "very difficult decision." The church had around 30 members and its last service was held earlier this month.
'Changed' Bieber Attends Sydney Church Conference
SYDNEY - Justin Bieber is crediting a Pentecostal pastor with changing his life as he mingles with thousands of Christians at a five-day church conference in Sydney.
The 21-year-old pop star praised Hillsong Church's New York City pastor Carl Lentz, who has recruited several celebrities and sports stars to the Sydney-headquartered church.
Ten Network television reported Bieber as saying: "I'm glad to know him. He's changed my life," as he interrupted an interview with Lentz at the Allphones Arena where 20,000 worshippers are attending the annual conference.
Bieber's string of offstage troubles includes reckless driving and misdemeanor vandalism.
Katy Perry Caught in Property Dispute Between Nuns
LOS ANGELES - Katy Perry is caught in a property dispute between a group of elderly nuns and the Los Angeles Archdiocese over who owns a hilltop convent overlooking Hollywood.
The singer is named in a recent lawsuit over the scenic property in the Los Feliz neighborhood.
The dispute centers on who is authorized to sell the convent. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary say the building is theirs, and they've sold it to a local restaurateur who has already moved in.
In a June 19 lawsuit, the archdiocese claims it is responsible for selling the property, and plans a $14.5 million deal with another buyer.
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