Sylvia Poggioli

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White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is known to have cultivated ties with far-right parties in Europe, like the National Front in France. He also seems to have forged an alliance with Vatican hard-liners who oppose Pope Francis' less rigid approach to church doctrine. The New York Times reported this week on Bannon's connections at the Vatican.

Italy has been described as the world's biggest open-air museum.

And with illegally excavated antiquities, looting of unguarded, centuries-old churches and smuggling of precious artworks, it's also an art theft playground.

But thanks to an elite police squad, Italy is also at the forefront in combating the illicit trade in artworks — believed to be among the world's biggest forms of trafficking and estimated to be worth billions.

At a busy office in central Rome, the man who oversees Italy's national network of committees that process asylum requests sits behind a desk with tall piles of folders.

Angelo Trovato says each committee has three members — representing police, local authorities and the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

"Each applicant is interviewed by one committee member," says Trovato. "But when it comes to deciding the destiny of an individual, the decision can't be by a single person. It must be reached collectively."

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Pope Francis turned 80 this month, at the end of what has been a busy year.

He made six foreign trips and oversaw many events and ceremonies with millions of pilgrims throughout what he proclaimed the Holy Year of Mercy. The year was also marked by the pope's efforts to heal divisions within the Christian world and tackle dissension within Catholicism.

The thrust of Francis' international outreach this year was ecumenism — what's known as Christian unity.

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She was one of the great female protagonists of the late-Renaissance art world. Forgotten in the 18th and 19th centuries, she was rediscovered in the 20th as a feminist icon.

Thirty paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi are on view at Rome's Palazzo Braschi, in a major new exhibit running through May 7, 2017, that aims to showcase the female artist as a great painter — one of the most talented followers of Caravaggio.

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Italy is headed toward a period of political uncertainty following voters' crushing rejection of constitutional amendments and of their champion.

The 41-year-old Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is slated to hand in his resignation Monday after only 2 1/2 years in office and after acknowledging his stinging defeat in Sunday's referendum.

Just over an hour after the polls closed, Renzi appeared before the media.

Usually brash and confident, he held back tears acknowledging defeat.

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Europeans are anxiously watching Italy where a Sunday referendum on constitutional amendments could bring down the government and make it the latest casualty of the anti-establishment wave sweeping the West.

Italians are being asked to vote "yes" or "no" to constitutional changes aimed at bringing the Italian political system more in line with the European norm.

The changes involve sharply reducing the size of one of the chambers of parliament, the Senate, shifting its powers to the executive, and eliminating the Senate's power to bring down government coalitions.

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