Sunday, April 8, 2012

President Obama wishes Jews, Christians happy Passover, Easter

By Dylan Stableford | The Ticket – 
President Obama, Michelle, Malia and Sasha walk to St. John's Episcopal Church for Easter service in Washington, …
President Obama used his weekly radio address on Saturday to wish Jews and Christians celebrating Passover and Easter, respectively, this weekend well:
For millions of Americans, this weekend is a time to celebrate redemption at God's hand. Tonight, Jews will gather for a second Seder, where they will retell the story of the Exodus. And tomorrow, my family will join Christians around the world as we thank God for the all-important gift of grace through the resurrection of His son, and experience the wonder of Easter morning.
These holidays have their roots in miracles that took place thousands of years ago. They connect us to our past and give us strength as we face the future.  And they remind us of the common thread of humanity that connects us all.
For me, and for countless other Christians, Easter weekend is a time to reflect and rejoice. Yesterday, many of us took a few quiet moments to try and fathom the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the resurrection of a savior who died so that we might live.
And throughout these sacred days, we recommit ourselves to following His example.  We rededicate our time on Earth to selflessness, and to loving our neighbors. We remind ourselves that no matter who we are, or how much we achieve, we each stand humbled before an almighty God.
Christ's triumph over death holds special meaning for Christians. But all of us, no matter how or whether we believe, can identify with elements of His story. The triumph of hope over despair. Of faith over doubt.
The notion that there is something out there that is bigger than ourselves.
These beliefs help unite Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. They shape our values and guide our work.  They put our lives in perspective.
So to all Christians celebrating the Resurrection with us, Michelle and I want to wish you a blessed and Happy Easter. And to all Americans, I hope you have a weekend filled with joy and reflection, focused on the things that matter most.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
On Sunday, the first family attended Easter services at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington.

Pope, in Easter message, backs Syria peace plan

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A fatigued-looking Pope Benedict threw his weight behind a United Nations plan to end bloodshed in Syria in his Easter Sunday message, calling for "an immediate commitment" to peace efforts there.
The 84-year-old pope gave a shorter-than-usual blessing from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica after an outdoor Easter Mass attended by more than 100,000 people in a St Peter's Square bedecked with yellow and white flowers.
"May the risen Christ grant hope to the Middle East and enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights," he said.
"Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community," he said, speaking to a festive crowd packed into the square and surrounding streets.
There was no official explanation why his twice yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) speech was shorter than in previous years but the pope, who turns 85 on April 16 and has appeared frail recently, looked drawn and tired at Sunday's Mass.
Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, capped an intense period of recent activity for the pope, including a grueling trip to Mexico and Cuba late last month and five religious services this past week.
As the pope spoke in Rome, Syrian troops pounded opposition areas, activists said, killing 74 civilians in an offensive that has sent thousands of refugees surging into Turkey before next week's U.N.-backed ceasefire aimed at staunching a year of bloodshed.
A peace plan formulated by U.N-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan calls for a truce to take effect early on Thursday if government forces begin pulling back from towns 48 hours earlier. Both sides have accused the other of intensifying assaults in the run-up to the truce.
The pope also made an appeal on behalf of civilians fleeing the Syrian conflict, most by fleeing to Turkey.
"May the many refugees from that country who are in need of humanitarian assistance find the acceptance and solidarity capable of relieving their dreadful sufferings," he said.
He also called for "stability and development" in Iraq, urged Israelis and Palestinians to "courageously take up anew the peace process," and condemned recent "savage terrorist attacks" against Christian churches in Nigeria.
While the Mass was in progress, the Vatican announced that the pope will visit Lebanon on September 14-16 to deliver the results of a Vatican synod of bishops on the Middle East in 2010.
At the end of his Easter message, Benedict wished the world a Happy Easter in 65 languages, including Arabic, Hebrew and other languages spoken in the areas in mentioned in his peace appeals
Benedict started Easter celebrations on Saturday night when, at a solemn vigil Mass in St Peter's Basilica, he said technological progress, in the absence of awareness of God and moral values, posed a threat to the world.
"The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil," he said.

U.S., allies to set demands for Iran nuclear talks: NYT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and other Western nations plan to demand that Iran immediately close and ultimately dismantle a recently completed nuclear facility deep under a mountain as part of new talks with Tehran over its nuclear program, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
The Obama administration and its European allies also will call for a halt in the production of higher-level enrichment of uranium fuel, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of Iran, the newspaper said, citing U.S. and European diplomats.
The diplomats told the Times that they could not imagine any agreement that left Iran with a stockpile of fuel, enriched to 20 percent purity, that could be converted to the grade needed to make an atomic bomb in a matter of months.
"We have no idea how the Iranians will react," a senior Obama administration official told the newspaper. "We probably won't know after the first meeting."
The opening talks are tentatively set for Friday.
In January, major powers signaled willingness to reopen the talks about curbing Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons but said Tehran must show it was serious about negotiations. Iran says its nuclear program is aimed solely at generating power.
The United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are the six powers involved in diplomacy aimed at resolving the long-running row over Iran's atomic plans.
Russia and China recently joined the four Western powers in expressing "regret" over Iran's expansion of higher-grade enrichment, most of which is now taking place deep inside a mountain near the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom to better protect it against Israeli or U.S. attacks.
The focus on diplomacy followed rising tensions between the West, which is seeking to cut Iran's oil sales, and Tehran, which threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz through which almost one-fifth of oil traded worldwide flows.
The United States has gradually tightened sanctions on Tehran due to its failure to answer questions about its nuclear program.
(Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Nick Macfie)