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There are around 12 million Catholics in China, less than 1 percent of China's population. It's a number that's felt at a weekday morning mass inside Shanghai's St. Peter's Church, where a small percentage of pew space is occupied by a few, mostly elderly loyal parishioners.

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, is warning against in-kind retaliation by the U.S. government for Russian hacking during the presidential election.

In an interview with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, Brennan said, "They do some things that are beyond the pale," referencing those who would undermine democratic processes, adding:

When Ebola struck West Africa a few years ago, the world was defenseless. There was no cure. No vaccine. And the result was catastrophic: More than 11,000 people died. Nearly 30,000 were infected.

Now it looks like such a large outbreak is unlikely to ever happen again. Ever.

The world now has a potent weapon against Ebola: a vaccine that brings outbreaks to a screeching halt, scientists report Thursday in The Lancet.

After nearly an hour's flight north from Baghdad, a cavernous C-130 military cargo plane touches down. Aboard are reporters, Pentagon officials and the man who has occasioned this trip, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

The plane taxis along an airstrip that as recently as July was controlled — and then largely destroyed — by Islamic State fighters.

This is the Qayyarah Airfield West, just 30 miles south of Mosul.

President-elect Donald Trump's transition team has asked the State Department to list its workers who focus on gender equality and ending violence against women, in what's being seen as an echo of an earlier request for the Energy Department to list employees who work on climate change.

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The plan began with an idle thought.

Glancing at a map earlier this month, Owen Delaney realized something funny: Seen from above, the Diana Fountain in London's Bushy Park bears a striking resemblance to the bulbous nose of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — at least, it would if that famous nose of his were blue. At any rate, that fountain-nose would look better if seen in the context of a full face.

So, Delaney decided to do it himself.

Rare Snowfall Blankets Dunes in The Sahara

Dec 22, 2016

On Monday, a rare and beautiful thing happened: There was a dusting of snow on the red sand dunes of the Sahara.

The snow fell on the northern Algerian town of Ain Sefra, which is known as the "gateway to the desert."

Karim Bouchetata, an amateur photographer there, grabbed his camera and took a number of photos before the snow melted later that day. He uploaded them to Facebook, where the surreal images quickly went viral.

Pope Francis has outlined more reforms to the Roman Catholic Church, including elevating more women and lay people to leadership positions and focusing more on the multicultural nature of the modern church.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reported that it's the third year in a row the pope has used his Christmas address to Vatican employees to lecture them about how they must change:

There was no shortage of sad news in 2016.

And because we're a blog that covers global health and development, we covered a lot of those sobering stories: the toll of diseases like Zika, the bombing of hospitals in conflict zones, the suffering caused by poverty and by discrimination against women.

But we published a lot of hopeful stories as well. We asked our team at Goats and Soda to pick some of the stories from this year that inspired them the most. We hope you're inspired too.

Marzipan, The Sweet Taste Of The Holidays In Madrid

Dec 22, 2016

There are three constants during the holiday season in Madrid: tourists ogling light-bedecked thoroughfares; supermarket aisles stuffed with seasonal treats like turrón and polvorón, the Spanish shortbread. And, everywhere, marzipan.

With a manhunt and a $100,000 reward aimed at his capture, more details are emerging about Anis Amri, the chief suspect in Monday's attack on a Christmas market in Berlin. Revelations that the authorities had monitored Amri — and marked him for deportation — are also fueling anger in Germany.

Evacuations continue from east Aleppo, as remaining rebels and civilians wait in freezing weather for transportation out of the city.

The end of the evacuations may be coming soon: NPR's Alice Fordham reports that regime forces might be entering the tiny enclave that has been held by rebels as early as Thursday evening.

The fall of eastern Aleppo to the forces aligned with Syrian President Bashar Assad has been a foregone conclusion for weeks now. The question was whether civilians and fighters would be allowed to leave.

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Russia is paying its last respects to the country's ambassador to Turkey, who was assassinated in Ankara Monday night. As NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow, political life in the Russian capital came to a halt to remember the service of Andrei Karlov.

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A group of Turkish military officers deployed to the U.S. wants to stay in America much longer than a typical rotation for visiting foreign officers.

More than two dozen officers deployed to a NATO command in the Norfolk, Va., area, are seeking asylum in the U.S., fearing they will be wrongly imprisoned by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, NPR has learned.

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Episode 743: 50 Ways to Leave Your Union

Dec 21, 2016

In the 1950s, when the European Union was just coming together, not every country was so eager to join. The people pushing for it, like Kimmo Kiljunen, a member of parliament from Finland, had to do some convincing. There were years of negotiations, each one filtered through tedious layers of translation into over 20 languages.

So by the end of it, to close the deal, Kimmo and others added a law to the E.U. constitutional documents: Article 50, an exit clause. Kimmo never thought anyone would use it. It was meant to be a way to make skeptics worry a little less.

Monday's attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed at least 12 and injured scores more is the latest in a series of atrocities claimed in the name of the Islamic State. In this operation, an assailant — the suspect now sought by German police has been identified as Tunisian-born Anis Amri — rammed a truck into pedestrians and street stalls.

Gambia's president is defiantly refusing to cede power despite his loss at the polls earlier this month, as regional and international leaders are ratcheting up the pressure on him to step down.

"This country has been independent since 1965. And they want me to leave my country? Who are they to tell me to leave my country?" Yahya Jammeh said in a speech at the African Bar Associated on Tuesday night. "I will not be intimidated by any power in this world."

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On this first day of winter - a heat wave at the North Pole - well, relatively speaking. Tomorrow, temperatures at the North Pole are expected to approach freezing.

ZACK LABE: In Fahrenheit, It's nearly 40, maybe 50 degrees above normal.

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