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

'What is religion for, anyway?'

Commentary: Best-selling author Thomas Cahill reflects on Pope Francis and the astonishing change he brings to the Vatican.
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Pope Francis waves to the crowd at the end of a visit at the parish of Santa Maria dell'Orazione in Guidonia Montecelio near Rome on March 16, 2014. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

The sudden and completely unexpected appearance of Pope Francis, following the drearily predictable pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, leaves many gasping.

It's almost as if Mother Angelica, with her drearily predictable decades of the rosary, were to be suddenly transformed into Lady Gaga.

The last two popes were unyielding conservatives.

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Q&A: Thomas Cahill on religious conflict throughout history

A conversation between GlobalPost religion writer Jason Berry and bestselling author Thomas Cahill about the role of religion in conflict and peace-building.
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Thomas Cahill (Robin Holland/Courtesy)

Thomas Cahill is author of the bestseller How the Irish Saved Civilization, the first in the "Hinges of History" series in which Cahill follows Western civilization through its culture-shaping figures, to continuing acclaim. Cahill is also a biographer of Pope John XXIII, and a popular figure on the lecture circuit. Heretics and Heroes, his new book, is a cultural and political history of the stormy transition from the Renaissance to Martin Luther’s revolt, which Cahill calls the “Religious Bomb....radical permanent changes in basic religious beliefs.”

GlobalPost religion writer Jason Berry talks with Cahill — who was the acquiring editor at Doubleday for Berry's 1992 book Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children — about Syria, the Sunni/Shia divide, and the history of religious conflict.

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Stories from Mexico's Casa de Migrantes: Journey to the US border

For thousands of South and Central American migrants who have paid coyotes to get them to the United States, the Casa is the last safe house before the Mexico-US border.
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The urban landscape of Tijuana, Mexico ends abruptly at the US-Mexico on April 3, 2008 in the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area southeast of Chula Vista, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

SALTILLO, Mexico — La Casa de Migrantes is the last safe house before the Mexico-US border for thousands of migrants heading north toward the United States. Flanked by the glorious Zapalinamé Mountains, which are part of the Sierra Madres, the house was founded by Father Pedro Pantoja and two nuns more than a decade ago, offering legal and psychological help and campaigning for migrant rights.

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Last Stop in Mexico: Migrants find security in Catholic safe house before facing US border

La Casa de Migrantes—the last safe house before the Mexico-US border—provides food, shelter and support for an average of 600 migrants each month.
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Central American immigrants ride north on top of a freight train on August 6, 2013 near Juchitan, Mexico. Thousands of ride the trains, known as "The Beast," during their long and perilous journey through Mexico to reach the US border. Some of the immigrants are robbed and assaulted by gangs who control the train tops, while others fall asleep and tumble down, losing limbs or perishing under the wheels. Only a fraction of those who start the journey in Central America will traverse Mexico completely unscathed — and all this before the formidable goal of illegally entering the US. (John Moore/Getty Images)

SALTILLO, Mexico — Alma Rosa Fernandez is exhausted. Every bone in her body aches after a gruelling 30-day journey from southern Guatemala to Saltillo in northern Mexico.

In the month she spent clinging to the notorious freight train known as "The Beast" with her husband and three children aged 10 to 15, she endured sleep deprivation, hunger and freezing temperatures. She said the family survived two near-death moments on their journey through Mexico, one of the most dangerous migration passages in the world today. While searching for food in San Luis Potosi, they were surrounded by five maras (gang members) wielding machetes, demanding money for riding the train on their turf.

The Fernandez Leyva family are among an estimated 300,000 migrants who travel through Mexico every year, heading for the United States. The vast majority are from the poverty-stricken and violent Central American triangle of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and enter along Guatemala’s border with Chiapas, where The Beast begins its journey north.

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Secularism on the decline in France

Analysis: Separation of church and state is at risk.
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French far-right Front National (FN) party president Marine Le Pen (C) speaks during a political rally in Beaucaire in support of the local municipal FN candidate, on February 22, 2014. (PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS — When 34 percent of surveyed voters admit they agree with the ideas of a political movement that is protectionist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Euro, France has a problem.

France’s far-right political party, Front National, has surged in popularity over the past year to its highest level in thirty years. Led by European Parliament Member Marine Le Pen, the party has bragged it could win elections in at least 15 cities this year.

In 2011, Le Pen compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France. The party is known for railing against the country’s ‘Islamisation’, and calling for expulsions of Roma, a referendum restricting immigration, and a return to the French Franc.

Come May, when elections for the European Parliament are held, the FN party, which is gaining popularity with older French and citizens under 24, could top the list of French political parties. 

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British church leaders oppose 'disgraceful' welfare cuts

Senior church leaders of different denominations, even some conservative leaders, have spoken up against the prime minister's welfare cuts.
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British cardinal Vincent Nichols leaves after the holy mass presided by pope Francis in St Peter's basilica at the Vatican on February 23, 2014. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative-led coalition government are hacking back Britain’s welfare bill. Now senior church leaders are speaking out, demanding welfare reform be reformed.

Church leaders of all denominations have spoken up.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic Church in the UK, started the ball rolling earlier this month when he gave an interview calling the cuts “a disgrace.”

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FRONTLINE documentary to reveal Vatican 'secrets' nearly one year into Francis' papacy

Pope Francis may be well-liked but the Catholic Church's problems run deep. FRONTLINE explores them in a 90-minute documentary airing Tuesday night.
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Pope Francis gives the Angelus blessing from the former papal apartments on February 23, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Peter Macdiarmid/AFP/Getty Images)

A little more than a year after an exhausted Pope Benedict abdicated the papacy, the first time a pope had done so in 600 years, his far more popular successor Pope Francis has gained a reputation as a humble but diligent reformer of the Catholic Church.

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Pope Francis appoints clouded figure as financial reformer

The Vatican's finances have a new watchdog, Cardinal George Pell. But Pell is considered to be more of an obstructionist than a reformer.
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The headquarters of the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), the Vatican Bank, on February 18, 2012. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

The Vatican's announcement Monday that Pope Francis has created a new Secretariat of the Economy, with broad oversight of Vatican finances, might be titled the "Vindication of Viganò."

The new office is tasked with picking up the reform job that, in effect, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò began in 2009 as Secretary-General of the Governorate of Vatican City-State. That long title means “governor” and his welcoming committee was a financial sinkhole. The Holy See was $10 million in the red when Viganò took over.

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How a Catholic missionary helped make California cool

Junípero Serra is known as the founding father of California. A new book explores his concept of "radical mercy," his role in the Inquisition and his influence on West Coast culture.
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A sunset is seen above the two steeples of Good Shepherd Catholic Church on December 11, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. (Kevork Djansezian/AFP/Getty Images)

The profound demographic shift of the Catholic Church in the last century has pushed members of the Western church – Europe, North America, Canada and Australia – into the minority. Today, three-quarters of the world’s Catholics come from the global south, notably Latin America and Africa, while the Western church accounts for roughly 25 percent. 

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Mexican Catholics find God in Islam

Islam has increased its appeal among Catholics seeking spiritual salvation elsewhere.
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Leslie Camarillo (left) and Martha Alamilla, both from Mexico City, at the Centro Educativo de la Comunidad Musulmana in Mexico City, following Friday prayers. (Bill Schaefer/GlobalPost)

MEXICO CITY — For almost five centuries Catholicism has been the dominant religion in Mexico.

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