Pope Francis

The annual TED conference is known for featuring impressive speakers. Attendees at this year's event in Vancouver have seen Serena Williams and Jorge Ramos, futurists and artificial intelligence experts, health activists and the ACLU's executive director.

But on Tuesday evening, one unannounced speaker took the audience by surprise: Pope Francis.

The pope was on a big screen rather than onstage, and his address had been recorded and edited earlier in April, but still: even for non-Catholics, the bishop of Rome has a certain gravitas.

Pope Francis has declared that abortion, which remains a "grave sin" in the eyes of the Catholic Church, can be absolved by ordinary priests for the foreseeable future — instead of requiring the intervention of a bishop.

The change was implemented on a temporary basis, for one year only, as part of the Catholic Church's "Year of Mercy," which began last December and ended on Sunday.

In a letter released on Monday, the pope announced that the change was being extended indefinitely.

Pope Francis arrived in Sweden on Monday for services marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that split Lutherans and Catholics.

Pope Francis met with the president of Venezuela on Monday for a private conversation about that country's acute political and economic crisis, as the Vatican announced it would be mediating a meeting between Venezuela's government and the opposition.

A statement from the Holy See, as translated by Catholic News Agency, said the pope encouraged President Nicolas Maduro "to undertake with courage the path of sincere and constructive dialogue" and "to alleviate the suffering of the people — first of all, those who are poor."

Pope Francis visited Azerbaijan on Sunday, addressing the Catholic faithful and reaching out to Muslim people in the second largest Shiite Muslim nation.

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