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Vatican city’s St. Peter’s Square gets 720-ton sand nativity scene

VATICAN CITY: The traditional nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square won’t be so traditional this year. For the first time, it is made of sand - 720 tons of it. For the past two weeks, Rich Varano, a professional sand artist, has been guiding three sculptors from the Netherlands, Russia and the Czech Republic, to craft the work, which measures about 5.5 meters high by 16 meters wide (18 feet high by 52 feet wide). Varano, 60, the artistic director of the massive work, doesn’t mind if you call him “Mr Sandman”. Sand is…

Chile asks Vatican for info on sex abuse cases, steps up raids

SANTIAGO: The Chilean government asked the Vatican on Tuesday to hand over documents related to accusations of sex abuse committed by clergy in Chile against minors, as local prosecutors stepped up raids of Roman Catholic Church offices in Santiago. Chilean prosecutors said in a statement that the Chilean foreign ministry, through its embassy in Italy, had requested from the Vatican information relating to nine clergy members accused of abuse. Police on Tuesday also searched Chile’s Episcopal Conference - the offices…

Pope Francis bans sale of cigarettes in Vatican on health grounds

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has ordered a ban on the sale of cigarettes inside the Vatican from next year because of health concerns, a spokesman said on Thursday. “The motive is very simple: the Holy See cannot be cooperating with a practice that is clearly harming the health of people,” spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement. He cited World World Health Organization (WHO) statistics that smoking causes more than seven million deaths worldwide every year. Cigarettes have been sold at a discounted price to Vatican…

Trump aims to mend Muslim ties on first foreign trip

RIYADH: US President Donald Trump will seek to rebuild relations with the Muslim world on his first foreign trip starting Saturday in Saudi Arabia as political scandals mount at home. Trump can expect a warm reception when he arrives in the oil-rich kingdom for talks with King Salman, but the domestic mood was grim following news that the FBI's investigation into his campaign's ties with Russia extends to a current senior White House official. Former FBI director James Comey has agreed to publicly testify…

Trump to address religious divides in first trip abroad

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump will urge unity between the world's major faiths on an ambitious first foreign trip that will take him to Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and Jerusalem, the White House said on Tuesday. National Security Advisor HR McMaster laid out a detailed itinerary for the "historic trip," due to start late this week, and confirmed that Trump would address a gathering of Muslim leaders on his "hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam." Previous US leaders have generally chosen a US neighbor such as…

Trump announces trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump on Thursday confirmed his first foreign trip as president will include stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican. Trump will add the three stops to an already announced visit to NATO and G7 summits in Brussels and Sicily later this month. "My first foreign trip as president of the United States will be to Saudi Arabia, then Israel, and then to a place that my cardinals love very much, Rome," Trump said. The visit comes as Trump wades into Middle East peacemaking, trying to reach a deal where…