Sylvia Poggioli

Rome is known as the Eternal City. Over many centuries, it has been sacked by marauders and repeatedly resurrected from decline. But this summer, Roman residents are being tested by a massive trash crisis that has prompted doctors to warn of the possible spread of diseases as birds, vermin and wild animals scavenge amid the rotting refuse.

Already, flocks of cawing seagulls have replaced traffic roar as the soundtrack of Roman life.

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To Italy now, where, over the last two weeks, a showdown has played out - on one side, a young female ship captain who rescues migrants seeking refuge in Europe; on the other, Italy's hard-right, anti-immigration interior minister.

Some 400 million people in 28 countries are eligible to vote in this week's elections for new representatives for the European Parliament — the only popularly elected European Union institution. It's normally a low-turnout affair, but this year, the Europe-wide result will be a crucial test of strength for nationalist and populist parties that want to remake the EU — and for those who oppose them.

Ahead of elections this week for a new European Parliament, 11 populist leaders rallied last Saturday in Milan's Piazza Duomo. They vowed to reassert their national sovereignty by wresting control from European Union bureaucrats headquartered in Brussels. Their host: Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy's far-right League party and Europe's rising populist star.

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The head of the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to get some tough questions today from members of the U.S. Senate.

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Appeals judges of the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia have upheld Radovan Karadzic's conviction for genocide in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre that claimed the lives of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

They also ruled that the 40-year sentence of Karadzic handed down in the first trial, in 2016, was too light given the gravity of the crimes.

Along with the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbian army general Ratko Mladic, Karadzic was a key figure in the Bosnian war.

In February, Pope Francis acknowledged a longstanding dirty secret in the Roman Catholic Church — the sexual abuse of nuns by priests.

It's an issue that had long been kept under wraps, but in the #MeToo era, a #NunsToo movement has emerged, and now sexual abuse is more widely discussed.

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North Carolina's Board of Elections has heard enough.

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President Trump delivered his second State of the Union address last night.

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His aides had forecast a call for unity, and the president did open with a call for bipartisanship and unity.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2019 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS)

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Pope Francis ended a historic trip to the United Arab Emirates with a papal mass, the first ever in the Arabian Peninsula.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in foreign language).

As clerical sex abuse scandals buffet the Catholic Church, a three-week assembly of bishops is under way in Rome on how to make the Church relevant for young people. But the assembly, known as a synod, will likely be dominated by what many analysts call Catholicism's worst crisis since the reformation.

Roughly 250 priests, bishops, cardinals and some younger laypersons are participating in the synod.

In the opening mass, pope Francis urged them "to dream and to hope."

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Tomorrow, Starbucks will open its first store in Italy, the country that considers itself coffee's spiritual home. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli knows coffee, and she knows Italy. And she says the company has set itself up for a challenge.

For centuries, the words "Vatican" and "intrigue" have gone hand in hand. But the Holy See's centuries-old code of secrecy ensured that scandals and conspiracies usually remained hidden behind the tall and sturdy Renaissance walls of the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, unbeknownst to the faithful masses around the world.

Now, in the era of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, mudslinging between rival church factions is being waged out in the open.

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The official purpose of Pope Francis' visit to Ireland this weekend is to attend the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families held every three years.

But with multiple sexual abuse scandals buffeting the Catholic Church across the world, the two-day visit may turn out to be one of the most consequential trips of this papacy. The pope is under intense pressure to enact concrete measures to ensure accountability for church officials who ignored or covered up cases of clerical sex abuse.

After two days of silence and a barrage of criticism for failing to address the latest clergy sex abuse scandal in the United States, Pope Francis has spoken.

"The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors," said a statement issued by the Vatican on Thursday.

"Regarding the report made public in Pennsylvania this week, there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke wrote.

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European Union leaders wrangled over migration policy reforms in an all-night meeting in Brussels. And one of the bloc's newest and loudest critics, the barely month-old government of Italy, is claiming a big win.

It was an art historian's chance discovery of a lifetime. Over 40 years ago, a museum director in Florence, Italy, found a hidden room whose walls were covered in drawings believed to be the work of Michelangelo and his disciples.

Although the drawings are not signed by the master, art experts say some of the sketches in charcoal and chalk are almost certain to be Michelangelo originals. They could shed light not only on the Renaissance artist's creative process but also on a mysterious and dangerous period in his life.

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Italy is on the verge of a constitutional crisis after anti-establishment party leader Luigi Di Maio called for the impeachment of President Sergio Mattarella.

An angry Di Maio, of the 5-Star Movement, made the unprecedented demand after Mattarella rejected a euroskeptic for the key post of economy minister — virtually foiling a bid to form Europe's first fully populist government.

One of Rome's must-see sights is the Vatican's Sistine Chapel — but it's usually so packed, visitors have a hard time absorbing the majesty and beauty of the frescoes painted by Michelangelo.

Now there's a new spectacle in town, where visitors can sit comfortably in plush theater seats and feast their eyes on every detail of the Sistine's masterpieces.

Every Sunday when he is at the Vatican, Francis ends his remarks to the crowd in St. Peter's Square with a typical Italian saying: "Have a good lunch and arrivederci."

It's that common touch that has so endeared the Argentine-born pope to millions of people across the world, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, since his election five years ago, on March 13, 2013. But in recent months, Francis has also become the target of criticism on various fronts, and the image of him as charismatic reformer has suffered some hits.

The Italian political world has been struck by a populist tsunami — 50 percent of voters in Sunday's parliamentary elections chose candidates from anti-establishment, anti-immigrant and euroskeptic parties. However, no party amassed enough votes to form a government on its own, and this makes weeks of political instability likely while government negotiations are underway.

"Italy ungovernable," read a Monday headline in the daily La Stampa.

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