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Vatican City, Jul 1, 2015 / 11:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Wednesday called for prayer for the people of Greece, shortly after the nation defaulted on a significant loan payment on its more than $300 billion debt.

“The news from Greece regarding the economic and social situation of the country is worrying,” Fr. Federico Lombardi, Holy See press officer, said in a July 1 statement. “Pope Francis invites all the faithful to unite in prayer for the good of the beloved Greek people.”

Greece faces a debate over the role of austerity measures, such as pension cuts and tax hikes, as it negotiates new financial bailouts with its creditors. The country's unemployment rate is above 25 percent, and individuals are unable to remove more than $70 a day from ATMs.

The Vatican's statement adds that “the dignity of the human person must remain at the centre of any political and technical debate, as well as in the taking of responsible decisions.”

“The Holy Father wishes to convey his closeness to all the Greek people, with a special thought for the many families gravely beset by such a complex and keenly felt human and social crisis.”

A June 30 deadline for Greece to make a roughly $1.7 billion payment to the International Monetary Fund came and went yesterday.

The country, which is part of the eurozone, has been in financial crisis for years. Economically the weakest nation in the eurozone, Greece was hit hard during the 2008 global financial crisis. Beginning in 2010, it began receiving financial bailouts, on the condition that it adopt austerity measures such as pension cuts, tax hikes, and public sector layoffs.

Greece's unemployment rate is now around 25 percent and its banks have been closed, with ATM withdrawals limited to roughly $66 a day.

The current ruling party, Syriza, was elected in January on an anti-austerity platform. The next month, Greece negotiated an extension on repaying its debt, but yesterday's default threatens a breakdown of the situation and raises fears of Greece leaving the eurozone.

Greece will hold a referendum July 5 whether or not to remain in the eurozone, and whether or not to support the terms offered by its creditors for a further, third bailout of some $32 billion lasting two years. Germany, the largest creditor to Greece, is strongly in favor of austerity measures in the Mediterranean country as a condition of another bailout.

Greece is also facing a July 20 payment deadline of more than $3.8 billion to the European Central Bank.

It is feared that without another bailout or an extension of Greece's repayment deadlines, the nation's crisis could affect the economic stability of the eurozone.

Vatican City, Jun 30, 2015 / 04:21 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis might chew coca leaves – or maybe sip coca tea – during his visit to Bolivia next week, the Vatican has said.

Bolivian Culture Minister Marko Machicao told local media that Francis had asked to chew coca leaves in the country, one of several stops during his visit to South America July 5-13.

The coca leaf, whose daily use and cultural importance in the Andes region rivals that of coffee in the United States, is embroiled in controversy in the international community because of its use as the main ingredient in the addictive drug, cocaine.

In 1961, the U.N. convention on narcotic drugs declared coca an illegal substance, and tried to phase out its cultural use by 1989 – but the local coca culture refused to die.

Many indigenous Bolivians believe the coca leaf to be sacred, and people of all social classes can be found either drinking the plant's tea or chewing its leaves throughout the country.  

Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca farmer himself, has staunchly defended the plant as a cornerstone of his country’s culture and economy, fighting for the use of the plant in its natural form.

Morales has revived the natural coca economy, and Bolivia now turns out coca products ranging from flour to toothpaste, shampoo and lotions.

“This leaf,” Morales told a 2007 U.N. General Assembly, “represents...the hope of our people.”

A number of international studies, including one published by Harvard University, found raw coca leaves to be packed with nutrients including protein, calcium, iron and other vitamins. A 1995 World Health Organisation report said there were “no negative health effects” from coca use in leaf form.

In its natural form, coca leaves have a mild stimulant effect considered similar to coffee, and they can be chewed or brewed into tea to fight hunger, exhaustion or altitude sickness – likely the reason Pope Francis might partake of the plant upon his arrival in the country.

And he’s following in his predecessor’s footsteps – Pope John Paul II drank tea made from coca leaves during his 1988 visit to Bolivia, and Pope Paul VI is reported to have drank the tea during a visit to the Andes region in 1968. Queen Sophia of Spain, and the British Princess Anne, are also said to have partaken in the plant in its natural form.  

When asked if the Pope would have some coca leaves or tea in Bolivia, Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi said he couldn’t confirm what the Pope would do one way or another, though he acknowledged that Pope Francis likes to take part in local cultures.

“(I) wouldn’t be surprised because the Pope likes taking part in popular customs. The Pope will do as he sees fit. From what I know there are ways of dealing with the altitudes that form part of popular culture: some drink a sort of mate tea, others chew coca leaves. The Pope hasn’t talked to me about what he plans to do, we shall see. We’ll see if he follows local customs.”

Vatican City, Jun 30, 2015 / 11:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Before heading out for his two-week stay at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo this summer, retired pontiff Benedict XVI received a 30 minute visit from Pope Francis, who wished him a pleasant stay.

Francis popped by Benedict’s residence at the Mater Ecclesiae ex-convent around 10 a.m. this morning to greet the retired pope before he leaves today. The meeting lasted half an hour.

Benedict will remain at the papal residence in the small Italian city for two-weeks, and is expected to return July 14, according to a June 30 communique from the Vatican.

The communique also noted that Pope Francis’ public audiences, including the weekly General Audience, will be suspended for the month of July with the exception of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal meeting in St. Peter's Square July 3.

General audiences will resume in August and will be held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. Francis’ morning Masses will also be suspended for July-August, and will resume in September.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. revealed Benedict’s travel plans to journalists June 15, explaining that Pope Francis “invited Benedict XVI to spend some time in Castel Gandolfo in the month of July and Benedict accepted.”

Pope Francis is not expected to join his predecessor this summer, according to Fr. Lombardi.

Castel Gandolfo, which lies about 15 miles southeast of Rome, has not been officially used as a papal residence since Benedict XVI – who now goes by “Fr. Benedict” – spent just over two months there following his Feb. 28, 2013, resignation from the See of Peter. He currently lives in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican Gardens.

In his first two summers as Pope, Francis has chosen to remain at the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence where he resides the rest of the year.

In addition to his time in Castel Gandolfo, Benedict XVI also has two public events on his summer schedule.

While in Castel Gandolfo July 3, Benedict XVI is set to receive an honorary doctorate from the Krakow, Poland-based Pontifical University of John Paul II and its music academy.

The honor specifically recognizes Benedict’s “great respect for musical tradition of the Church” and “special concern for the noble beauty of sacred music and its proper place in the celebration of the sacred liturgical rites of the Church,” according to a press release from the university.

Polish cardinal and former secretary to St. John Paul II Stanislaw Dziwisz will be present to confer the honor.

Back at the Vatican, Benedict XVI at the end of August will also take part in the inauguration of the “Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI Roman Library” at the Pontifical Teutonic College Aug. 30.

The Ratzinger Foundation confirmed to CNA that he will first celebrate Mass at the College for this year’s meeting of his former theology students called the “Schulerkreis.” Following Mass, he will take part in an inauguration ceremony at the library.

The library section dedicated to his life and thought is currently in the process of being catalogued. It includes books by or about him and his studies, many donated by Benedict XVI himself.

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