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Two former Popes to be honoured in canonisation

Two former Popes of the Roman Catholic Church are set to become saints at an unprecedented twin canonisation by Pope Francis, that has aroused both joy and controversy in the 1.2 billion member Church.

Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005, will be declared saints in a ceremony tomorrow.

A tapestry featuring Pope John Paul II is seen in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Credit: REUTERS/Tony Gentil

While John died half a century ago, critics say the canonisation of John Paul - which sets a record for modern times of only nine years after his death - is too hasty.

Some critics also believe he was slow to grasp the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis that emerged towards the end of his pontificate.

Pope Francis leads Easter Mass at the Vatican

Pope Francis arrives to lead the Easter mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican.
Pope Francis arrives to lead the Easter mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican. Credit: Reuters

See more: Archbishop to highlight hardship in Easter sermon

Members of the Italian army march in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican.
Members of the Italian army march in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican. Credit: Reuters
Swiss guards stand to attention before the arrival of Pope Francis to lead the Easter mass in Saint Peter's Square.
Swiss guards stand to attention before the arrival of Pope Francis to lead the Easter mass in Saint Peter's Square. Credit: Reuters

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Former-Pope Benedict makes rare appearance

Pope Benedict sat in the front row at the ceremony in the Vatican.
Pope Benedict sat in the front row at the ceremony in the Vatican.

Former Pope Benedict made a surprise entrance into St. Peter's Basilica to attend a ceremony at which his successor, Pope Francis, was elevating 19 prelates to the high rank of cardinal.

Benedict, who resigned a year ago, sat quietly wearing a long white overcoat in the front row along with other cardinals.

It was the first time he has attended a papal ceremony since his resignation, although he and Francis have met several times.

Pope John Paul II's blood stolen from Italian church

Thieves have stolen the blood of Pope John Paul II, the Polish pontiff who led the Catholic Church for 27 years, from a church in Italy, Reuters reports.

A spokeswomen for the remote San Pietro della Ienca church east of Rome said it was broken into over the weekend and a reliquary with the Pope's blood and a crucifix were missing.

Some of Pope John Paul's blood was saved after an assassination attempt in 1981 Credit: Reuters

Dozens of police with sniffer dogs have reportedly scoured the area for clues to help their investigation.

Italian Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana has called it "a sacrilegious theft that was probably commissioned by someone".

Nothing else was stolen and Franca Corrieri, who helps looks after the church, said thieves probably would have had time to take other objects during the night-time theft.

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Pope Francis to visit Holy Land for three trip in May

Pope Francis has announed he will visit Holy Land sites in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in May - his first trip to the area as pontiff

Pope Francis is to visit the Holy Land from May 24 to 26. Credit: Reuters

The May 24 to 26 trip to Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem will mark the 50th anniversary of a landmark trip there by Pope Paul VI in 1964, the first by a pope in modern times. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Benedict XVI went in 2009.

Assad sends message to Pope Francis, Vatican says

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message, the Vatican said on Saturday, without disclosing its contents.

According to Reuters, it was the first known time Assad has sent a direct message to the pontiff since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011. Pope Francis has made numerous appeals for an end to the conflict, the latest on Christmas Day.

Syrian President Assad sends message to Pope Francis, Vatican says Credit: Reuters

Vatican sources said the message likely included the Syrian government's position ahead of peace talks due to start on January 22 under UN auspices in Geneva. According to the Syrian presidency Twitter account, Assad called for peace through dialogue.

The Vatican said a delegation headed by Joseph Sweid, a Syrian minister of state, held talks in the Vatican with the pope's secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin and his foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

"The delegation brought a message from President Assad for the Holy Father and illustrated the position of the Syrian government," a statement said.

Pope on Sunderland: They not do so well at the moment

The Sunderland chaplain who presented a red and white striped shirt to Pope Francis said the pontiff was "delighted to keep it" and took the gift back to the papal apartments.

Father Marc Lyden-Smith said the Pope was aware of the Wearside club's struggles and told him: "They not do too well at the moment."

"I said no, no, Holy Father. They are bottom of the Premier League. We need you to pray."

"Very diplomatically, he said: 'I pray for all footballers that they reach their potential.'"

"I'd like to think that he'll be wearing [the Sunderland shirt] on Sunday afternoon," the chaplain added.

Winless Sunderland face fierce local rivals Newcastle United in Wear-Tyne derby this Sunday.

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