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Pope Francis leads an ecumenical prayer vigil in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican

The times they are a-changin’ – is the Catholic Church?

On Wednesday, Pope Francis is convening a massive meeting of Church officials and ordinary Catholic faithful — including women for the first time ever — to discuss and vote on how the Church can find common ground on a number of divisive issues, from LGBTQ+ recognition to divorce to the role of women. It’s the first phase of a two-year process, which will culminate in another summit in Rome next year.

Why this is a big deal: Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination, with over 1.3 billion adherents, and it claims direct roots to Jesus Christ through his disciple Peter, considered the first Pope. The Church’s size and global nature mean its adherents hold a vast array of political and cultural beliefs, many of which are at loggerheads in the secular world. But the Church’s mission to serve all is embedded in the name: The Greek Katholikos literally means “universal.”

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A man harvests opium in a field outside Loikaw, Myanmar.

Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Hard Numbers: Myanmar's opium rebound, journalists at risk, China responds to Yellen, hope for eradicating age-old disease

33: Opium cultivation had been declining in Myanmar, but all that changed in 2022 under the military junta that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi. Last year, the Southeast Asian country saw opium production rise by 33%, and UN experts fear it will continue to rise amid economic and political instability.

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