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If you’ve ever wanted to see the pope spinning a basketball on his finger, you’re in luck. During Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square today, he met with the Harlem Globetrotters, who presented him with a personalized Globetrotters jersey (No. 90, the number of years the team has been around), taught him a few basketball tricks and even jokingly invited him to come play in their next game. One can only hope that a video of the pope slam dunking will emerge in the near future ...

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Pope Francis used his Christmas day message to call for peace in areas of conflict, reminding the Church how many children have suffered because of the violence in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and parts of Africa. “There are so many tears this Christmas,” he said. The Pope’s message was stern and somber. He referenced the brutal New Testament king from the Christmas story, saying that today, the young victims of abuse, violence and displacement cry “out under the spade of many Herods” while “so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference,” ignore their plight. On Christmas Eve, Pope Francis used a satellite phone call to address families at a refugee camp in the Kurdish region of Iraq, telling them “You are like Jesus on the night of His birth when He had been forced to flee. You are like Jesus in this situation, and that means we are praying even harder for you.”

In his Christmas season speech, the pope also singled out abortion, referencing, “infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life.” His prayer was for peace around the world and that God would comfort those suffering in global conflicts: “May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigors of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity” ... Discuss

Good news, animal lovers. According to Pope Francis, our four-legged friends are heaven-bound. At a recent appearance in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope met a young boy who was visibly upset over the recent death of his dog. Pope Francis assured him, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” Though some theologians may argue that the comment is left to some interpretation, The New York Times reached out to The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit preist and an editor at a prominent Catholic magazine, who said, “He said paradise is open to all creatures. That sounds pretty clear to me” ...

UPDATE: The New York Times has issued a correction to their story, and as Slate points out, the pope’s comments appear to have been translated poorly in the media. Also, the story about comforting a young child who had just lost his dog, was actually about a different pope altogether. From NYT:

According to Vatican Radio, Francis said: “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us,” which was interpreted to mean he believes animals go to heaven. Francis is not known to have said: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.'’

The eternal fate of all dogs still remains up for debate. Discuss

7 Prominent Christian Thinkers Who Wrestled With Doubt

Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, Pope Francis and more Christian leaders who struggled with doubt. Read More

According to the Twitter account of LifeChurch.tv pastor Craig Groeschel, YouVersion founder Bobby Gruenewald recently got to meet Pope Francis and took the opportunity to give him an iPhone pre-loaded with the popular Bible app. The free Bible-study app has been downloaded nearly 160 million times. If his tweets start being sent via iPhone, we’ll know he’s using it ... Discuss

Pope Francis’ chief alms-giver has announced new plans to install free showers in the public restrooms in Vatican City as a service to the homeless. Monsignor Konrad Krajewski explained that the new facilities in St. Peter’s Square were inspired by an encounter with a homeless man. The homeless gentleman declined Krajewski’s invitation to a fancy dinner on his 50th birthday because he said that he smelled bad, and there was no place for homeless individuals like him to wash. According to some reports, the facility will also provide members of the homeless community with fresh towels and clean undergarments ... Discuss