5 Muslims sue over citizenship application

LOS ANGELES - Five people sued the federal government Thursday alleging that an expanded national security screen targeting Muslims has led to lengthy delays and denials in their citizenship and green card applications.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California claims that the government doesn't allow immigration officers to approve benefits for applicants deemed a national security concern under a 2008 program.

The Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program uses overly broad criteria and has tied up naturalization and green card applications filed by Palestinian, Iranian and Somali citizens, the lawsuit alleges.

Plaintiff Ahmad Muhanna, a 54-year-old engineer, said he is perplexed by the delays. He and his wife applied for citizenship in 2007. After suing to get the government to move on their case, the Palestinian couple was denied in 2012 and appealed. They were interviewed and told they would hear within 60 days, but as of Thursday, the Richardson, Texas resident said he was told his case was still pending a background check.

Pope Francis visits Pentecostal church

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has become the first pope to visit a Pentecostal church, pressing his outreach to evangelicals who represent Catholicism's greatest competition for Christian souls around the globe.

Francis flew by helicopter last week to visit the under-construction Evangelical Church of Reconciliation in the southern city of Caserta. He met privately with Pentecostal preacher Giovanni Traettino, an old friend.

Speaking to some 350 Pentecostal faithful in the church, Francis apologized for Catholic persecution of Pentecostals during Italy's fascist regime, when the practice of their faith was forbidden, and stressed that there was unity in diversity within Christianity.

Tibetan monk cremated in Nepal

KATMANDU, Nepal - Thousands of Tibetan exiles recited prayers and offered white and orange scarves last week during the cremation ceremony for a revered Tibetan monk, whose funeral in Nepal nearly fell victim to regional politics.

Nepal had initially given permission to let the remains of Shamar Rinpoche enter the country, but immediately withdrew amid concerns that Tibetan exiles would protest China's rule over their homeland during the rites. Nepal strictly prohibits any activities considered to be anti-China.

During the Buddhist ceremony at the Shar Minub monastery near Katmandu, Tibetan exiles refrained from political protests.

Rinpoche, who has followers in Nepal, India, Bhutan and Europe, built the monastery and preached there for several years. He died last month in Germany at the age of 62.

Millions displaced by religious violence in '13

WASHINGTON - The U.S. says millions of people were driven out of their homes because of their religious beliefs last year.

Secretary of State John Kerry released the State Department's 2013 report on religious persecution around the world.

It says that in conflict zones, mass displacement has become the norm. Hundreds of thousands of minority Christians have fled Syria after three years of civil war, and this month Islamic militants have forced Iraqi Christians to leave Mosul or face execution.

The report also highlighted more than a million people being displaced in the Central African Republic amid an upsurge in Christian-Muslim violence.

Associated Press