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Dec 17, 2:16 PM EST

Religion news in brief

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AP Photo/Cliff Owen

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Mass. Catholics hold vigil in endangered churches
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Religion News
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Little-known book by pope outlines views, hopes for Cuba

Pope boosts Rome's 2024 bid but warns: 'I won't be around'

Death penalty sought in Jewish site shootings

Pope played crucial role in US-Cuba rapprochement

Pope adds 2nd victim to sex abuse commission

Churchill painting sells for record $2.8 million

Religion news in brief

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Biden marks start of Hanukkah at national menorah

WASHINGTON (AP) - Vice President Joe Biden says Hanukkah commemorates the miracle of courageous warriors overcoming great odds to protect the Jewish people's culture and dignity.

Biden marked the start of the eight-day Jewish holiday Tuesday evening by observing the lighting of the national menorah. A trio of cantors sang Hanukkah songs as a rabbi lit the giant menorah on the Ellipse outside the White House. Biden said Jewish heritage is American heritage.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Jewish Temple by the Maccabees after their victory over Syrian oppressors.

Jews mark each of the eight days of Hanukkah by lighting candles on a menorah, or candleholder. The national menorah has been lit in the park south of the White House every year since 1979, when President Jimmy Carter attended the first lighting.

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Atheist group and church advertise on Arkansas billboard

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A digital billboard in northwest Arkansas is flashing alternating ads by a church and an atheist group.

The billboard along Interstate 49 in Springdale has been showing an ad sponsored by the group American Atheists. It shows a young girl writing Santa Claus that all she wants for the holidays is to miss church, because she's too old for fairy tales.

The ad is part of a campaign to promote the atheist group's national convention, which will be held over the Easter weekend in Memphis, Tennessee.

The atheist ad inspired a response by Grace Church in Alma, Arkansas. Executive Pastor Devon Walker says the congregation raised about $900 to pay for its own message to appear about 16 seconds later on the same digital billboard for the two weeks before Christmas.

The church's ad reads, "Questions, Doubts, Curiosity? All Welcome at Grace Church, Alma."

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Vatican praises, thanks US nuns in olive branch

VATICAN CITY (AP) - The Vatican is going out of its way to mend fences with American nuns, thanking them for their selfless work caring for the poor while gently suggesting ways to survive amid a decline in their numbers.

A long-awaited report on the Vatican's three-year investigation into U.S. women's religious orders was released Tuesday and was remarkable for what it didn't say. There was no criticism of American nuns, no hard recommendations to shift focus away from social justice issues and no accusation that a feminist mentality prevails among them.

Rather, the report was remarkably positive and encouraging. It offered a radically different message in content and tone compared with that of another Vatican office investigating a group of the sisters' leaders.

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Jury selected to hear in vitro dismissal lawsuit

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A jury has been selected to hear a schoolteacher's lawsuit over her claim that she was dismissed by a northern Indiana Roman Catholic diocese because she tried to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization.

WANE-TV and The Journal Gazette report that attorneys spent about two hours Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne selecting 12 jurors to hear Emily Herx's lawsuit against the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese.

Herx claims she was dismissed from Fort Wayne St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School because she tried to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization, a process involving mixing egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The process is banned under Catholic doctrine.

The trial is expected to last the rest of the week.

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Holy cow! Vatican to open pope's farm to public

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (AP) - Pope Francis is welcoming the public to see the working farm at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence south of Rome.

Pope Pius XI had the farm built between 1929 and 1934, and it still produces the dairy, meat and vegetables for the pope and his staff.

The Vatican is planning to open the farm to the public next year, after finding success with its guided tours of Castel Gandolfo's surrounding gardens. Francis has decided not to use the hilltop retreat, preferring to stay put in his suite at the Vatican hotel during vacations.

Soon, the public will be able to see the free-range hens, ostriches, turkeys, rabbits and 80 cows that feed Francis and his staff at the Santa Marta hotel.

Osvaldo Gianoli, who runs the papal villa, says the farm may even offer visitors a taste of the farm's products.

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