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Pope Francis goes off script in Cuba to urge clergy to embrace poverty

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Pope Francis abandoned his prepared speech Sunday at an evening prayer service in Havana to urge the clergy to embrace poverty and never forget “the most abandoned.”

His face flushing in the tropical heat, he delved into a stern and lively impromptu address to hundreds of local priests, nuns and seminarians at the Cuban capital’s cathedral on the second day of his visit to the Americas’ only communist-ruled nation.

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“Wealth makes us poor,” he told them, warning they risked “ending up mediocre” if they forget “the smallest, the most abandoned, the sickest” to focus on budgets or management principles.

“Please, don’t tire of forgiving, don’t be afraid of mercy,” said the pope, who is preparing to inaugurate a “holy year of mercy” in December.

In his prepared speech — which Francis nevertheless arranged to have sent to the press — he lashed out at backbiting and factionalism in the Church, which in two weeks will hold a synod on the family that has unleashed internal conflicts over sensitive issues such as divorce, homosexuality and unmarried couples.

He condemned “division into cliques” and urged the clergy “to speak straightforwardly, despite our disagreements and disputes, and not behind each other’s backs.”

But he added that spirited debate was healthy for the Church.

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“Conflicts and disagreements in the Church are to be expected and, I would even say, needed,” he said.

“Woe to those communities without a ‘yes’ and a ‘no.’ They are like married couples who no longer argue, because they have lost interest, they have lost their love.”

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Taliban release two Western hostages in Afghanistan

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The Taliban handed two Western hostages over to US forces in southern Afghanistan Tuesday, three years after they were abducted, in a swap for three high-ranking insurgent prisoners that could boost peace talks.

The exchange of American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks for the militants -- including Anas Haqqani, brother to the Taliban's deputy leader -- was welcomed by both the United States and the insurgents.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the releases "give us hope for the success of intra-Afghan peace negotiations, which the United States stands ready to support."

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President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukraine getting ‘tired’ of Trump scandal

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday that his country is "tired" of questions related to the Trump scandal, amid a critical week of public impeachment hearings in Washington.

"We have our country, we have our independence, we have our own problems," he complained after a press conference in Kiev with visiting Czech prime minister Andrej Babis.

Hearings began last week in Washington into whether US President Donald Trump ordered to freeze US military aid to Ukraine in an effort to get Kiev to launch investigations against potential 2020 election rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

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Audience breaks into applause as Vindman explains why he’s not afraid of testifying against Trump

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Republican efforts to undermine Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman apparently failed to persuade the audience in the impeachment hearing room.

The National Security Council staffer was showered with applause after reading the closing portions of his opening statement for a second time at the request of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY).

"Can you read the last paragraph for me again, the second-to-last one, can you read that again for me?" Maloney said. "I think the American public deserves to have it again."

Vindman agreed, and said his father would probably appreciate that.

"Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family," Vindman said. "Do not worry, I'll be fine for telling the truth."

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