Sylvia Poggioli

A commission advising Pope Francis on how to tackle clerical sex abuse of minors has completed its first full meeting at the Vatican. The commission, which has been criticized for its slow start, says it's now drawing up recommended sanctions against bishops who have covered up cases of abuse.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, head of the commission, told reporters it's drafting practical recommendations on making bishops accountable for cover-ups and failure to prevent abuse.

In the 21 months since his election, the first pope to take the name of Saint Francis has emerged as a moral leader on the global stage, addressing both Catholics and the world beyond.

A recent Pew worldwide survey showed an overwhelmingly favorable view of the pope. And that was before his crucial role in the U.S.-Cuba thaw was revealed.

Pope Francis is heading to Turkey for what could be one of the most challenging trips of his young papacy.

The three-day visit, which begins Friday, will be a mix of the religious and political, with the pope addressing topics ranging from Christian unity to the worsening plight of Christians in the Muslim-dominated Middle East.

While the Catholic and Orthodox churches have been divided since the "Great Schism" nearly a millennium ago, Francis will attend Sunday's celebration of St. Andrew, patron saint of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Ancient Rome may have been open to all sorts of sexual mores, but modern Italy is less so. The country lags far behind its European Union partners in guaranteeing equal rights for homosexuals.

Gay couples have no legal recognition or adoption rights in Italy, and a bill presented last year outlawing discrimination on the grounds of homophobia has been bogged down in parliament by right-wing opposition.

Some 200 bishops from around the world are gathered at the Vatican for a two-week assembly to discuss issues related to the family, including artificial contraception, premarital sex and ministering gay unions.

But one of the most controversial is a proposal to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion — taboo in church doctrine for 2,000 years.

In February, Pope Francis tapped one of his favorite theologians, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, to address a meeting of all the cardinals.

Pope Francis has summoned bishops from all over the world to Rome to discuss issues concerning families – including hot-button issues like artificial contraception and gay civil unions.

The meeting, called a synod, opened on Sunday and is seen as a test of Francis' vision of a more merciful Church.

Not since the landmark Second Vatican Council half a century ago has a church meeting raised so much hope among progressive Catholics — and so much apprehension among conservatives.

On the outskirts of Rome, far from the coast, there's a top-security compound where Italy is trying to tackle one of Europe's major crises: the rising flows of unauthorized migrants making perilous journeys from North Africa across the Mediterranean.

In all of 2011, the year of the Arab uprisings, slightly more than 60,000 migrants arrived by sea in Italy.

By mid-August this year, the number surpassed 100,000.

The Costa Concordia cruise crashed into a reef and capsized in waters off the island of Giglio in Italy over two years ago. On Monday, the most complicated part of the operation to refloat the ship was completed successfully.

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Eighteen miles off Tuscany's coast, Gorgona is Italy's last island prison. Its steep cliffs rise up from azure Mediterranean waters. Here, a select group of convicts serves the end of long sentences by farming. And now, a legendary winemaker is training them to make high-end wine.

Mentioned by Dante in The Divine Comedy, Gorgona was for thousands of years a refuge for hermits and monks. Since 1869, it's been a penal colony.

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Pope Francis travels this weekend to the Middle East, the cradle of the three monotheistic religions, and will meet with Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders.

But the official purpose of the visit is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox and to try to restore Christian unity after nearly 1,000 years of estrangement.

Meeting in Jerusalem in 1964, Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras set a milestone: They started the process of healing the schism between Eastern and Western Christianity of the year 1054.

The first non-European pope in modern history will makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land this week, a region with centuries of religious strife.

Francis — the first pope to take the name of the saint of peace — will carry far less historical baggage than any of his predecessors.

When John Paul II visited Israel in 2000, he prayed at the Western Wall and apologized for the church's sins against Jews. Nine years later, at Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust, Benedict XVI urged that the names of the victims never perish, be denied or forgotten.

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The day after Easter, St. Peter's Square was packed.

Caramba Camarra, a Gambian volunteer with Opera Romana Pelligrinaggi, the Vatican-run pilgrimage agency, said he had never seen so many people lined up to visit the basilica.

"It's amazing! The line curves like a serpent, filling the whole square," he said. "It looks like the crowds at Mecca."

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Audie Cornish.

President Obama meets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday, the 30th anniversary of formal relations between Washington and the Holy See, and against a backdrop of a sometimes turbulent history in U.S.-Vatican ties.

The first high-level bilateral contact was in 1788, as the Vatican foreign minister recalled recently. Speaking in a large renaissance hall, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti said President George Washington, through his envoy Benjamin Franklin, informed the Vatican that it did not need to seek authorization from the U.S. for the appointment of bishops.

A year ago today, the world's 1.2 billion Catholics got their first Jesuit pope and the first from the global south. Taking the name Francis, he soon became one of the world's most popular newsmakers.

Following two doctrinally conservative leaders, the Argentine-born pope's pastoral approach has given the Catholic Church a new glow — less judgmental, more merciful.

Like many others in the big Sunday crowd in St. Peter's square, Sally Wilson is not Catholic, but she came all the way from Beaumont, Texas, to see the pope.

With mild weather ahead, southern Europe is once again bracing for new boatloads of would-be migrants and asylum seekers from North Africa.

Italy has borne the brunt of this migrant flow for two decades, and it has responded with one of Europe's most repressive laws on illegal immigration.

But now the Italian parliament is trying to scrap a law that has made migrants vulnerable to exploitation and human rights abuses. The existing law has also produced detention camps where undocumented migrants are held in harsh conditions.

Italy has more UNESCO world heritage sites than any other country in the world, and its art and cultural riches have drawn visitors for centuries.

It also prides itself on being a culinary mecca, where preparing, cooking and serving meals is a fine, even sacred, art. And now that the country is in the deepest and most protracted recession since World War II, why not cash in on its reputation as a paradise for visiting gourmets and gourmands?

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