Religion

David Gardner

President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the White House on September 10 2014

Barack Obama’s outline of plans for a US-led offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, is light on the politics that will be decisive in their defeat. Read more

By Vincent Boland in Dublin

It is tough being number one. Just ask the Irish. One of the things Ireland has had to get used to over the past decade is being ranked top (or near the top) in a range of global surveys for this, that and the other. The reaction is two-fold: a moment of pride followed by the question, “Surely they can’t mean us?”

A decade ago, Ireland was named the world’s best place to live, by the Economist. Now a new ranking has comes along declaring Ireland to be the country that contributes most “to the rest of humanity and the planet.” That sounds like the kind of award countries should be winning.

The Good Country Index, compiled by the international policy consultant Simon Anholt, is essentially an interpretation of the results of surveys carried out by international organisations such as the UN and the World Bank. The index measures the contribution of 125 countries to the world in seven categories of achievement relative to the size of their economy. Read more

When the already opaque language of diplomacy turns to allegories, you know you are on even thornier ground than usual.

In this case, it is the UK trying desperately to convince Kenya they are after all the greatest of friends – if mistrusting, sparring ones.

Addressing a crowd in a televised speech, Christian Turner, the UK High Commissioner to Kenya, likened the pair – once former colony and colonial power – to a lion and buffalo “locked in combat”.

He went on: “On stopping to gather their strength for a final assault, they saw some vultures circling up above. They at once stopped their quarrel, saying: ‘It is better for us to work together than to become a meal for vultures.’” Read more

(Getty)

By Jamie Smyth, Ireland correspondent

Ireland has decided to hold a referendum to change its constitution to recognise gay marriage, marking the latest step in the transformation of one of Europe’s most Catholic countries into, arguably, one of its most socially liberal. Just nine European countries (most recently France) recognise gay marriage and opinion polls suggest a majority of Irish people support introducing it.

“The right of gay couples to marry is, quite simply, the civil rights issue of this generation, and, in my opinion, it’s time has come,” Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said at last years Gay Pride festival in Dublin.

The centre left Labour party has prioritised the issue of gay marriage while the socially conservative Fine Gael party do not want to be rushed on an issue, which could alienate rural supporters. Read more

Stunned, then overjoyed (Getty)

By Guy Dinmore and Giulia Segreti

The first pope from the Americas, the first from the Jesuit order, the first to name himself Francis … the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio signals a break with the past on many fronts for a Roman Catholic Church in desperate need of renewal. Yet he is also regarded as a theological conservative in the mold of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, and at the relatively advanced age of 76 he will have to overcome fears that he too will be a transitional pope.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s normally unflappable spokesman and a fellow Jesuit, was just as stunned at the choice as the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square. “Personally I am shocked that I have a Jesuit pope,” he told reporters, noting that Jesuits usually eschew positions of authority. He added: “He had the courage to pick a name that has never been chosen. It expresses simplicity and evangelical testimony.”

Rebecca Rist, an expert in papal history at Reading University, said the choice of Francis – echoing both the 13th-century St Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier, one of the first followers of the Jesuits – signalled that the new pope would emphasise poverty and reform. Furthermore, by choosing a name never used before he was indicating “something new – that he would not emulate a predecessor”. Read more

Esther Bintliff

The 115 cardinals tasked with choosing the next Pope have begun their ‘conclave’ in Rome – but the black smoke that emerged from their burnt ballot papers tonight means no result yet.

It’s a good time to revisit this FT interactive on the global reach of the Roman Catholic church (click on the image to go there): Read more