By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) – Nearly everyone agrees that the militant Muslim group rampaging through northern Iraq must be stopped. The question is, how?
Asked if he approved of the American airstrikes against ISIS, Pope Francis withheld his moral imprimatur on Monday, refusing to fully support or denounce the military campaign.
"I can only say this: It is licit to stop the unjust aggressor," the pontiff said during a press conference on the plane back to Rome from South Korea. "I underline the verb: stop. I do not say bomb, make war, I say stop by some means."
In an apparent reference to the United States, Francis said "one nation alone cannot judge" the best means of stopping groups like ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.
Those decisions should be made collectively by the United Nations, the pontiff said.
"It is there that this should be discussed. Is there an unjust aggressor? It would seem there is. How do we stop him?" the Pope asked, without answering his own question.
Already, Francis' cautious comments about American airstrikes and the use of force have fostered a welter of interpretations, from "tacit approval" to a "yellow light" to outright endorsement.
The Pope who was returning to Rome after a five day trip to South Korea, may soon have the chance to clarify his moral argument personally to U.S. and UN officials.
(CNN) – He's embraced a severely disfigured man, declined to judge gay priests, sought common ground with atheists and focused the world's attention on the poor and marginalized.
Yes, in the 18 months since his election as pontiff, Pope Francis has earned a reputation as one of the nicest guys on the planet.
According to a CNN poll, nearly 90% of American Catholics approve of the way he's running the church, and even atheists speak fondly of this Pope.
But, if you watch him closely, you'll see a steely spine behind Francis's friendly smile. Just ask the Italian mafia.
In the video above, I explain 5 ways Pope Francis is tougher than you think.
By the way, be sure to check out our ongoing coverage of the Pope's trip to South Korea this week.
Opinion by Candida Moss, special to CNN
(CNN) – When Pope Francis arrives in South Korea on Wednesday for a five-day visit, he’ll get a look at just the kind of church he’s been trying to create worldwide.
The trip, planned to coincide with Asia Youth Day, marks the first time a pope has visited the country since 1989, and is part of a new papal focus on globalization in general and on Asia in particular. (Francis plans to visit Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Japan in January.)
The time has long passed that the Catholic Church is elderly white men and women in European enclaves.
The last papal conclave and the election of the first Latin American Pope raised awareness of the Catholic Church’s growing presence in Africa, but Asian Christianity was hardly mentioned at all.
Even if it is rarely discussed in the media, Korean Catholicism is among the most vibrant in the world.
Here are five reasons South Korea might be the future of Catholic Church.
By Daniel Burke and Ashley Fantz, CNN
(CNN) – It wasn’t as if God's voice boomed through sun-parted clouds, telling Kent Brantly to move his family to Liberia.
Still, the young doctor said, the call was clear.
It echoed through the congregation where he was raised, Southeastern Church of Christ in Indianapolis.
Standing before the church community in July 2013, months before he left for Africa, Brantly said he heard the call in the teachers who urged him to memorize Scripture and the neighbors who funded his first mission trip years ago.
He saw it in the aunts and uncles who spent their vacations running Bible camps, organizing youth groups and serving missions themselves in Africa.
“It may not seem like much,” Brantly said in an emotional address to the Southeastern congregation, “but when you connect the dots you see a grand design that God has used to draw my life in a certain direction.”
For Brantly, that meant serving a two-year medical mission in Liberia with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization. But in a grim twist that garnered international headlines, the 33-year-old contracted Ebola while treating patients and was airlifted back to the United States.
Brantly and a fellow missionary, Nancy Writebol, who was serving with SIM, another Christian aid organization, are being treated for the disease at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
After Liberia's outbreak began in March 2013, Writebol volunteered at a hospital in Monrovia, where she disinfected doctors and nurses working with patients stricken by the disease.
Despite their weakened health, their trust in God remains strong, family members said.
“Mom is tired from her travel, but continues to fight the virus and strengthen her faith in her Redeemer, Jesus,” said Jeremy Writebol, Nancy’s son.
On Friday, Brantly said that he felt a spiritual serenity even after learning his diagnosis.
“I remember a deep sense of peace that was beyond all understanding,” he said. “God was reminding me of what he had taught me years ago, that he will give me everything I need to be faithful to him.
Though Brantly's wife and children had been in Liberia with him, they had returned to the United States when he became ill.
By Moni Basu, CNN
New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) – Sister Helen Prejean blasts the air-conditioner in her champagne-colored Toyota Corolla, the back bumper held up with duct tape. It's clear why friends insist on driving when they are with her. She could rival NASCAR's Danica Patrick on the gas pedal. Age - she turned 75 this year - hasn't slowed her down.
She was weaving all over Interstate 10 when police stopped her one time. Turned out she was reading while driving. The officer let her go when he discovered who she was: "I'll go straight to hell if I ticket a nun," he said.
He made her promise she would never do that again. So now she depends on iPhone's Siri for driving directions and making phone calls. She also likes to play Plants vs. Zombies (not while in motion, of course) even though the violent nature of the game goes against her Christian principles.
"It's OK," she says. "The zombies are already dead."
On this day in late July, Prejean is nearing Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola, for the post office that serves it. She's been here so many times the warden no longer subjects her to the protocol for visitors.
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) – Clearly, “lifestyles of the rich and religious” doesn’t cut it for Pope Francis.
The pontiff has said it “breaks my heart” to see priests and nuns driving the “latest model of car.”
He’s blasted “airport bishops” who spend more time jet-setting then tending to their flock.
And he’s warned against church leaders who bear the “psychology of princes.”
The Vatican fired one such “prince” last year: German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst - aka, “The Bishop of Bling” - who spent $43 million to remodel his opulent pad.
(Bronze window frames? $2.4 million. Getting on the wrong side of the Pope? Far more pricy.)
“God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!” Francis said in his book-length blueprint for the church.
Say what you will, this Pope puts his preaching into practice.
But are American archbishops following his example?
See the full story here.
Opinion by Matt Emerson, special to CNN
(CNN) – Is Andrew Garfield, star of films such as “The Social Network” and “The Amazing Spiderman,” considering the priesthood?
Last month, paparazzi snapped a picture of Garfield walking as he carried “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” the Rev. James Martin’s insightful overview of Jesuit life and spirituality.
According to reports, he’s consulting the book as he prepares to play a Jesuit in a film adaptation of “Silence,” a novel about Catholic missionaries in Japan.
Garfield’s reading material – and the movie he’s studying for – captures the continuing cultural impact of the 474-year-old Catholic religious order officially known as the Society of Jesus.
Sometimes called "God's Marines" (not all appreciate the nickname) for their willingness to go to the frontlines of faith, Jesuits form the largest order of Catholic priests in the church, with approximately 18,000 members worldwide. And, at a time when most religious orders are shrinking and pining for new candidates, the Jesuits say inquiries about joining their ranks are surging.
What explains the Jesuits’ enduring appeal?
Much of it has to do with their academic legacy. In the United States alone, there are 60 Jesuit high schools and 28 Jesuit colleges and universities. They are part of a network of secondary and post-secondary institutions that stretch from Los Angeles to Lagos to Tokyo. A good number of those schools are named after the founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Born in Spain in 1491, Ignatius – then Iñigo Lòpez de Loyola – was groomed for a conventional path in service of the Spanish crown.
Rome (CNN) - Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan because of her faith, arrived in Rome on Thursday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.
Ibrahim "will remain in Italy for a short time and then will travel on to the United States," the ministry said.
Sudanese authorities had said Ibrahim was guilty of rejecting Islam in favor of Christianity, but her conviction for "apostasy" and adultery was overturned last month on appeal, following weeks of international controversy.
After her release, she and her husband, American Daniel Wani, were detained for two days, accused of falsifying travel documents after going to the airport in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. They were trying to fly to the United States with their baby daughter, who was born while Ibrahim was in prison, and toddler son.
Now their dream of starting a new life in the United States appears to be on the verge of becoming reality.
Not only that, but Ibrahim and her family met with Pope Francis at his private residence in Domus Santa Marta in Vatican City.
During the meeting Thursday, which lasted about half an hour, Ibrahim thanked the Pope for his and the Roman Catholic Church's support and prayers, the Vatican said.
He, in turn, thanked Ibrahim and her family for their "courageous witness and constancy of faith."
Francis also played with the children, 18-month-old Martin and 2-month-old Maya, and greeted the Italian diplomats involved in her journey to Italy.
With this gesture, the Vatican said, the Pope "desired to show his closeness, attention and prayer also to all those who suffer for their faith, in particular to Christians who are enduring persecution or limitations imposed upon their religious freedom."
(CNN)– Will the World Cup final become a "Holy War"?
At the very least, Sunday's match could put millions of Catholics - not to mention Vatican employees - in a bit of a bind.
Will they root for Argentina, the homeland of Pope Francis, who is known to be an ardent soccer aficionado? Or will they back Germany, the native country of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, also a football fan?
And what about the Big Referee Upstairs? Whose prayers will he heed when the game is on the line?
Germany reached the final match on Tuesday by blowing out Brazil, the host country. Argentina beat the Netherlands on Wednesday afternoon.
Of course, both Popes (not to mention God) have more important things on their minds. But the pontiffs have also said that sports can be more than fun and games.
(CNN) – Catholic bishops "will be held accountable" for failing to protect children from sexual abuse, Pope Francis said Monday, his strongest acknowledgment yet of what abuse victims have been saying for decades: that the cover-ups have often been as bad as the crimes.
But without strong action to back up those words, such groups are likely to view Francis' comments as little more than lip service. Vatican officials have so far been reluctant to take action against bishops accused of concealing abuse.
In a homily given during a private Mass with six victims of church sexual abuse, Francis apologized for the abuse and asked for forgiveness.
"I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves," Francis said in the homily, according to a text of the statement provided by the Vatican.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.