Sylvia Poggioli

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's international desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia and how immigration has transformed European societies.

Since joining NPR's foreign desk in 1982, Poggioli has traveled extensively for reporting assignments. Most recently, she travelled to Norway to cover the aftermath of the brutal attacks by an ultra-rightwing extremist; to Greece, Spain, and Portugal for the latest on the euro-zone crisis; and the Balkans where the last wanted war criminals have been arrested.

In addition, Poggioli has traveled to France, Germany, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, and Denmark to produce in-depth reports on immigration, racism, Islam, and the rise of the right in Europe.

Throughout her career Poggioli has been recognized for her work with distinctions including: the WBUR Foreign Correspondent Award, the Welles Hangen Award for Distinguished Journalism, a George Foster Peabody and National Women's Political Caucus/Radcliffe College Exceptional Merit Media Awards, the Edward Weintal Journalism Prize, and the Silver Angel Excellence in the Media Award. Poggioli was part of the NPR team that won the 2000 Overseas Press Club Award for coverage of the war in Kosovo. In 2009, she received the Maria Grazia Cutulli Award for foreign reporting.

In 2000, Poggioli received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Brandeis University. In 2006, she received an honorary degree from the University of Massachusetts at Boston together with Barack Obama.

Prior to this honor, Poggioli was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences "for her distinctive, cultivated and authoritative reports on 'ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia." In 1990, Poggioli spent an academic year at Harvard University as a research fellow at Harvard University's Center for Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government.

From 1971 to 1986, Poggioli served as an editor on the English-language desk for the Ansa News Agency in Italy. She worked at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. She was actively involved with women's film and theater groups.

The daughter of Italian anti-fascists who were forced to flee Italy under Mussolini, Poggioli was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelor's degree in Romance languages and literature. She later studied in Italy under a Fulbright Scholarship.

Pope Francis is heading to Turkey for what could be one of the most challenging trips of his young papacy.

The three-day visit, which begins Friday, will be a mix of the religious and political, with the pope addressing topics ranging from Christian unity to the worsening plight of Christians in the Muslim-dominated Middle East.

While the Catholic and Orthodox churches have been divided since the "Great Schism" nearly a millennium ago, Francis will attend Sunday's celebration of St. Andrew, patron saint of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Over the past few decades, assemblies of Roman Catholic bishops meeting in Rome, known as synods, have been predictable events that have always upheld the viewpoints of the reigning pope.

But with the widely popular Pope Francis, nothing is predictable.

A two-week-long synod on family issues that wound up this weekend was tumultuous, and the results showed a church deeply divided over how to deal with gays and with divorced and remarried Catholics.

Ancient Rome may have been open to all sorts of sexual mores, but modern Italy is less so. The country lags far behind its European Union partners in guaranteeing equal rights for homosexuals.

Gay couples have no legal recognition or adoption rights in Italy, and a bill presented last year outlawing discrimination on the grounds of homophobia has been bogged down in parliament by right-wing opposition.

Some 200 bishops from around the world are gathered at the Vatican for a two-week assembly to discuss issues related to the family, including artificial contraception, premarital sex and ministering gay unions.

But one of the most controversial is a proposal to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion — taboo in church doctrine for 2,000 years.

In February, Pope Francis tapped one of his favorite theologians, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, to address a meeting of all the cardinals.

Pope Francis has summoned bishops from all over the world to Rome to discuss issues concerning families – including hot-button issues like artificial contraception and gay civil unions.

The meeting, called a synod, opened on Sunday and is seen as a test of Francis' vision of a more merciful Church.

Not since the landmark Second Vatican Council half a century ago has a church meeting raised so much hope among progressive Catholics — and so much apprehension among conservatives.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

On the outskirts of Rome, far from the coast, there's a top-security compound where Italy is trying to tackle one of Europe's major crises: the rising flows of unauthorized migrants making perilous journeys from North Africa across the Mediterranean.

In all of 2011, the year of the Arab uprisings, slightly more than 60,000 migrants arrived by sea in Italy.

By mid-August this year, the number surpassed 100,000.

The Costa Concordia cruise crashed into a reef and capsized in waters off the island of Giglio in Italy over two years ago. On Monday, the most complicated part of the operation to refloat the ship was completed successfully.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Eighteen miles off Tuscany's coast, Gorgona is Italy's last island prison. Its steep cliffs rise up from azure Mediterranean waters. Here, a select group of convicts serves the end of long sentences by farming. And now, a legendary winemaker is training them to make high-end wine.

Mentioned by Dante in The Divine Comedy, Gorgona was for thousands of years a refuge for hermits and monks. Since 1869, it's been a penal colony.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

At the Vatican today Pope Francis had his first meeting with victims of clergy. He vowed to hold bishops accountable for the protection of children. The meeting came nearly 16 months after Francis was elected. Victim support groups said it was long overdue. For more on this NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us from Rome. Hello Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: And I understand the Pope held a Mass with these victims, including a dramatic homily. What did he say?

Pope Francis travels this weekend to the Middle East, the cradle of the three monotheistic religions, and will meet with Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders.

But the official purpose of the visit is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox and to try to restore Christian unity after nearly 1,000 years of estrangement.

Meeting in Jerusalem in 1964, Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras set a milestone: They started the process of healing the schism between Eastern and Western Christianity of the year 1054.

The first non-European pope in modern history will makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land this week, a region with centuries of religious strife.

Francis — the first pope to take the name of the saint of peace — will carry far less historical baggage than any of his predecessors.

When John Paul II visited Israel in 2000, he prayed at the Western Wall and apologized for the church's sins against Jews. Nine years later, at Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust, Benedict XVI urged that the names of the victims never perish, be denied or forgotten.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The Vatican got a grilling this past week for its handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal. The setting - a United Nations hearing in Geneva. Meanwhile in Rome, a new advisory board to Pope Francis held its first meeting on the sex abuse crisis.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

For the second time this year, Vatican officials were subjected to scathing questions by a U.N. panel. The questions focus on the church's handling of cases of sexual abuse by priests. The grilling came in two days of hearings in Geneva by the U.N. Committee on Torture. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is following this and joins me now. And, Sylvia, earlier this year, it was a U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child that issued a very harsh report about clerical sex abuse. What is the Committee on Torture saying now, and is it different?

The day after Easter, St. Peter's Square was packed.

Caramba Camarra, a Gambian volunteer with Opera Romana Pelligrinaggi, the Vatican-run pilgrimage agency, said he had never seen so many people lined up to visit the basilica.

"It's amazing! The line curves like a serpent, filling the whole square," he said. "It looks like the crowds at Mecca."

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