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Reporting and analysis of the religious forces that drive and influence global news. 

Why attacks on sacred spaces are 'always more vicious'

Last week's attack on a Jerusalem synagogue hit a particular nerve for many people of faith.
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews look at bullet holes in the main window of a synagogue in Jerusalem which was attacked the previous day by two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

The attack on a Jerusalem synagogue last week, where two Palestinian assailants wielding guns and hatchets killed five Israeli men and wounded seven more, has left Jerusalem shocked and fearful that a cycle of religious violence is underway.

For many, that the attack happened in a synagogue, against four worshipers who were mid-prayer, has made it all the more horrifying. The fifth Israeli murdered was a policeman responding to the scene. Both of the Palestinian attackers were killed by police.

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Priest exiled for supporting female clergy accuses Vatican of heresy

Father Roy Bourgeois is the founder of School of the Americas Watch and a leading advocate for allowing women into the Catholic priesthood.
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Members of the School of the Americas Watch including Roy Bourgeois (L) stage a demonstration in front of the US Embassy demanding action from the US government towards the restitution of ousted Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, in Tegucigalpa in July 2009 (Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana — Father Roy Bourgeois has spent the better part of his 76 years like a polemical Don Quixote, tilting against the powerful windmills of his time: the US military, Latin American dictatorships, the State Department, federal courts — and now the Vatican.

Bourgeois is the founder of School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), whose annual demonstration began Friday outside Fort Benning, in Columbus, Ga. and runs through the weekend.

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Tending to the graves of WWI dead, Gazan gardener weathers modern conflict

As a Palestinian gardener cares for the headstones of fallen soldiers in a World War I cemetery, he also works to protect his family from Hamas-Israel violence.
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At the Deir El-Balah Commonwealth Cemetery in Gaza, Palestinian Khalil al-Wajar washes the headstone of Australian Trooper Henry Albert Franklin Price, who served during WWl in the Australian Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron. Khalil's father Mohammed, the cemetery's official gardener, has raised his family not only in the shadow of World War l but the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. (Heidi Levine/The GroundTruth Project/GlobalPost)

Editor’s note: This post is part of a Special Report called “The Eleventh Hour: Unlearned lessons of World War I” launching in full this week, nearly a century after the Armistice Day of Nov. 11, 1918 that ended the war.

DEIR AL BALAH, Gaza — For decades Palestinian Mohammed al-Wajar has raised his family in the shadow of World War I, while trying to protect them from the violence of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

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Rabbi's death brings to life his message of renewal

Reb Zalman believed that the power of faith lies in its ability to be made new again.
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Reb Zalman explains the four worlds of kabbalah to his Holiness in Dharamsala during dialog. (Rodger Kamenetz/Courtesy)

In 1990, Rodger Kamenetz, a poet and LSU professor of English joined a small group of rabbis and Jewish religious thinkers in India for a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. They met in Dharamsala, the home-in-exile for the Buddhist leader of Tibet since the 1959 the occupation by Chinese Communists.

Kamenetz was on a journey of his own, and in Dharamsala he met a man who became his mentor, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi was a catalyst of the 1960s Jewish Renewal movement which sought spiritual depths in hasidic culture as a response to traumatic aftershocks of the Holocaust.

Reb Zalman, as he was known to those close to him, saw in the Dalai Lama, leader of the Tibetan Buddhist nation diaspora, a kindred spirit.

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Synod leaves questions about Vatican stance on homosexuality

Church leaders moved away from an early draft of the synod's record, but some LGBT rights advocates and clergy say evolution is underway.
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Bishops attend a papal mass for the beatification of Paul VI, who died in 1978, and the end of Vatican's synod on the family at St. Peter's square on Sunday, Oct. 19. (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE /AFP/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — The closing of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family was celebrated in a Mass for thousands, led by Pope Francis in the Vatican City on Sunday.

It followed the release of the official record of the synod, or Relatio Synodi, which was approved paragraph by paragraph by the assembled bishops on Saturday, with three of the 62 paragraphs failing to get the necessary votes. Though most synods don't generate much news, a draft version of the report released last week ignited a firestorm when a section under the heading “Welcoming Homosexuals,” said, “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community,” and asked if the community was capable of welcoming people with such “tendencies.”

The new version “significantly backtracks on LGBT issues from the draft released earlier this week,” according to Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Maryland-based Catholic gay rights group New Ways Ministry.

“It's very disappointing that the synod's final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included,” DeBernardo wrote. “Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples.”

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Australia is curtailing civil liberties in response to the Islamic State

IS has spooked Australia's government to push through a series of reforms reminiscent of post-9/11 America.
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Women greet eachother during Eid al-Adha celebrations at a festival at Paul Keating Park in Bankstown on October 4, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Eid al-Adha, also known as 'Festival of the Sacrifice' is a Muslim holiday that celebrates the prohit Ibrahim for his willingness to sacrifice his own son at the order of Allah. (Lisa Maree Williams/AFP/Getty Images)

MELBOURNE, Australia — Shamaila Saeed sat in a circle with a dozen women and teenage girls, discussing passages from the Quran. It was a typical afternoon in the women’s section of the IEWAD mosque and community center in Narre Warren, a southeastern suburb of Melbourne.

The tranquil setting seemed a world apart from the police station parking lot in nearby Endeavor Hills, where five days earlier Abdul Numan Haider, an 18-year-old Muslim from Narre Warren, had stabbed two counter-terrorism officers with a knife before they shot and killed him.

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Vatican document fires up gay rights debate

As Catholic bishops from around the world discuss "family issues," friendlier language toward gays and lesbians is creating fireworks.
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Pope Francis (R) smiles as he arrives for his speech at the Synod on the Families, to cardinals and bishops gathering in the Synod Aula, at the Vatican, on Oct. 6. Pontiff on Sunday launched a major review of Catholic teaching on the family that could lead to change in the Church's attitude to marriage, cohabitation and divorce. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — “The drama continues!” laughed Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle of the Philippines, opening the second week of press conferences on the 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops taking place amid the buzz of wandering tourists around the Vatican.

Tagle began the usual media briefing Monday afternoon by summarizing some of the most noteworthy aspects of the previous meeting, part of a landmark gathering on Catholic families and social issues. He had on hand the freshly released Relatio Post Disceptationem, a synthesis of discussions from the first week of the synod. And that document has already created a firestorm.

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The international community must not consent to 'new Burmese apartheid'

Opinion: Muslims are suffering at the hands of Myanmar's government, which is now planning an awful new program.
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US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks alongside Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Myanmar, prior to meetings at the US State Department in Washington, DC on Sept. 30. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

YANGON, Myanmar  Myanmar's foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin took to the podium at the United Nations building in New York late last month and told the international community that “all major concerns related to human rights” in the former police state had “been addressed to a larger extent.” Given the government's efforts in this field, he asserted, his country “had now reached the middle tier of the human rights ladder” and should no longer be subjected to the scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Council.

While the minister's speech drew polite applause, his claims could hardly have been taken seriously. 

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The influential Iraqi cleric rallying Muslims against the Islamic State

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has emerged as an important voice of moderation at a critical time.
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Iraqi volunteers, loyal to Shia Muslim spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, attend a combat training session at a military camp in the mainly Shia southern city of Basra on Sept. 27, 2014. (Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

As the new Iraqi government grows more dependent on US air strikes and military aid to defeat Islamic State (IS) jihadists, the country’s most revered Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has emerged as an important voice of moderation. 

Sistani called on the Shia-led government to keep Iraq united and reconcile with Sunnis. But he has also forcefully declared that foreign powers should not interfere in Iraq’s political affairs. 

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Synod in Rome: Pope Francis and the antinomians

Frank talk is making this year's synod far less boring than in years past and revealing some truth about the Catholic Church.
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Pope Francis holds his skullcap in front of a Swiss guard as he leaves at the end of the morning session of the Synod on the Family, at the Vatican, on October 6, 2014. The meeting of nearly 200 bishops from around the world is addressing the huge gulf between church teachings on moral issues and what believers actually do. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2002, on a sunny fall day in Rome, I asked a canon lawyer why the Vatican derailed a 1989 request by American bishops for a free hand to defrock sex abusers. Only the pope held that power — if bishops had more flexibility to dismiss abusers it might have preempted scandals to come.

The priest told me that US diocesan tribunals “violated grandly – terribly – the annulments of marriage.” What, I asked, did marriage annulments have to do with pedophilia?

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