Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pope urges religious reconciliation

Pope Benedict XVI has called on followers of the three major monotheistic religions to put their differences behind them and work towards reconciliation.

The pope made the comments as he celebrated an outdoor mass on Tuesday in front of thousands of people in Jerusalem's Kindron Valley, where Jesus and his disciples are believed to have had the Last Supper.

Benedict said he feels the pain and frustration of people who have undergone the "bitter experiences of displacement" as a result of conflict in the Middle East.

But he called on Jews, Muslims and Christians to put aside things that divide them.
"Jews, Muslims and Christians alike call this city their spiritual home... There should be no place within these walls for narrowness, discrimination, violence and injustice," Benedict said.

"Believers in a God of mercy ... must be the first to promote this culture of reconciliation and peace, however, painstakingly slow the process may be, and however, burdensome the weight of past memories."

'Mutual understanding'

The mass came as Benedict continued his week-long pilgrimage to the Middle East.
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The Holy Land's Christian decline

Earlier on Tuesday, the pope visited the Western Wall, a solemn place of prayer and contemplation for Jews.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Jerusalem, said the pope placed a prayer between the stones of the wall, following the Jewish tradition.

"It contained an appeal for peace in the Holy Land, the Middle East and for people across the world," Rowland said.

Benedict also met Israel's two chief rabbis, expressing the Catholic Church's commitment to reconciliation with Jews.

"...The Church continues to value the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews and desires an ever deeper mutual understanding and respect through biblical and ideological studies as well as fraternal dialogues," he said.

His comments followed a controversial move to welcome back into the Roman Catholic church a bishop who denied the extent of the Holocaust.


Benedict has also been criticised over the Vatican's move to beatify Pope Pius XII - pope during the time of the Holocaust - whom many Jews blame for not speaking out against the Nazis during the second world war.

The pope has also disappointed many Muslims in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Benedict prayed at the Western Wall [AFP]

Mohammed Hussein, Jerusalem's grand mufti, called on the pope to work to end Israeli "aggression" after Benedict visited the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site in Islam, on Tuesday.

"We look forward for your holiness's effective role in putting an end to the ongoing aggression against our people, our land, and our holy sites in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank," Hussein said.

Benedict was the first pope to enter the building, which is usually closed to non-Muslims.

Jews consider the plaza on which the gold-domed mosque stands to be their holiest site, the location of the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Roger Clemens speaks: Denies drug use _ again

Roger Clemens tried the silent treatment for more than a year and saw where that got him. With many fans believing allegations that the seven-time Cy Young Award winner used performance-enhancing drugs, he's now attempting a different strategy. Clemens hired a firm that guides high-profile figures through public relations crises, and Tuesday he broke his silence with a radio appearance.

Clemens again denied that former personal trainer Brian McNamee injected him with performance-enhancing drugs in a phone interview on ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning."

"He's never injected me with HGH or steroids," Clemens said of McNamee's assertions to baseball investigator George Mitchell.

About three weeks ago, Clemens met in Houston with representatives from Washington-based Levick Strategic Communications. Levick senior vice president Gene Grabowski said Clemens was referred by his lawyers and agents.

"Because of the litigation, he felt obligated on advice of counsel not to speak," Grabowski said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "What he learned in that year was that by not speaking no one was going to tell his story."

Recalled Clemens, "They came in and said, 'You need to get your story out about all this garbage that is being said.'"

Clemens said he chose to speak out Tuesday because it was the release date of a book about his alleged drug use.

"It's important for me to do that," he said. "I've seen excerpts of the book and they're completely false. ... You know, guys, it's piling on. It's hurtful at times. But I'm moving on."

Clemens appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" in January 2008, then held a news conference the next day. But he had stayed quiet since testifying before Congress the following month.

While "American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America's Pastime" was officially released Tuesday, its revelations were not new to the public. The book, by four New York Daily News reporters, recaps previous reports in the newspaper. It had been available to reviewers and had excerpts published before Tuesday.

Clemens is under investigation by a federal grand jury in Washington that is trying to determine whether he lied when he told a congressional committee that he had not used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Clemens said he had not been summoned to testify before the grand jury.

He also has sued McNamee for defamation. While not mentioning McNamee by name, Clemens said Tuesday that "you've got somebody that's out there that is really just crawling up your back to make a buck."

"This, in my view, is going to backfire, because he's publicly now poking a stick in Congress' eye," McNamee's lead lawyer, Richard Emery, told the AP in a phone interview. "And, to me, all that's going to do is vitalize the prosecutors going forward. Nobody, for a minute, thinks he's not a liar just because he's talking."

Clemens said he had given a DNA sample to federal investigators but that syringes provided by McNamee would not link him to performance-enhancing drug use.

"It's impossible because he's never given me any," Clemens said.

Clemens' radio appearance returns him to the spotlight as other stars had replaced him as the most visible reminders of baseball's drug scandal. Alex Rodriguez admitted before the season that he had used steroids, and Manny Ramirez was suspended last week for violating MLB's drug policy.

Clemens said he had not followed either situation closely. The Ramirez case proved "the testing program we have set up in Major League Baseball is great," he said.

Clemens said he was sad to hear about Rodriguez.

"I wish him the best, tell him to move forward, continue to do what he's doing," he said.

Grabowski said Clemens would decide whether he wanted to do any more interviews after he returns from an upcoming vacation.

Clemens repeated his much-lampooned use of the word "misremembers" about friend and former teammate Andy Pettitte's statement that Clemens told him he used HGH. He said he has spoken to Pettitte a few times, but not about the drug allegations.

Clemens said it would have been "suicidal" for him to use steroids because of a history of heart problems in his family.

"Everywhere I've gone and gotten the opportunity to speak to young kids or college kids, I take a lot of pride in telling those boys to get after it and do things the right way and take care of your body, because I know how I did it; I know how hard I worked," Clemens said. "For some of that to come in question, of course it's hurtful. But it's not going to break my spirit."

Star Trek: Leonard Nimoy & His Alter Ego

Seven years after the lackluster theatrical release Of Star Trek: Nemesis and four years after the demise of the small tube's Enterprise, TV wunderkind J.J. Abrams has successfully relaunched the Starship Enterprise.

Unofficially dubbed "Star Trek: The Young Years," screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman revert back to the first meetings between the future Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his first crew – Spock, ship's doctor McCoy, linguist Uhura, ensign Chekov, navigator Sulu, and engineer Scotty. The designated intergalactic menace is a revenge-seeking Romulan named Nero, whose weapon of mass destruction drills into planets, instantly transforming them into black holes.

One such attack triggers a time travel sequence that ties together the 42-year-old franchise's previous storylines with this prelude. A crucial component is the reemergence of the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock – Leonard Nimoy.

Delighted to be back on board, Nimoy admitted, "It (Star Trek) went off in a direction that I didn't relate to very well. The makers of this film re-awakened the passion in me that I had when we made the original film and series. I was put back in touch with what I cared about and like about Star Trek. So it was an easy way to come on home."

Nimoy had only praise for his onscreen alter ego, Zachary Quinto, who, without the pointy ears, shaved eyebrows and bowl cut plays the evil Sylar on TV's Heroes. "Zach made some choices that I thought were wonderful surprises to me. We did not talk about specifics, like 'Do this. Don't do that.' We had very general conversations about the philosophy and psychology of the character, the philosophy of Star Trek and the fans' reactions to various aspects, but there was no specific instruction. It didn't need that and it didn't call for that."

Continuing, Nimoy chuckled, "Frankly, I was extremely jealous of his scenes with Zoe Saldana and I think it's totally unfair that I never got to do that.

"I think between us, we have book-ended the character. He has created a Spock that comes before the Spock that I portrayed. I'm playing a Spock that comes much, much later and is much more resolved, much closer to who I actually am today," explained Nimoy, whose affiliation with the director has carried over into a steady guest starring gig on Abrams' Fox series Fringe.

During the finale that aired last night, Nimoy debuted as William Bell, a character only referred to in previous episodes. He interjected, "I have agreed to do two more episodes in the next season, and then we'll see where it goes from there. It's a wonderful opportunity, because it's a blank canvas. The characters are still being developed and discovered, but I don't plan to work on a series, except for an occasional episode."

Despite being so closely identified with Spock over four decades, the Boston, Massachusetts native has achieved a remarkable list of credits off screen. After directing a few television episodes, Nimoy helmed 1984's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and the subsequent 1986 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, following through with Three Men and a Baby, 1987's highest grossing film.

His distinctive voice lent itself to the character of Galvatron in 1986's animated feature The Transformers: The Movie and The Pagemaster in 1994. His biography also includes five albums recorded on Dot Records. Moving into yet another media, Nimoy's voice can be heard on the 2005 computer game Civilization IV.

Venturing into the literary realm are two autobiographies – I Am Not Spock, I Am Spock, several volumes of poetry, along with a photographic study exploring the feminine aspect of God's presence titled The Shekhina Project.

Akin to a mutual admiration society, Quinto spoke favorably of his mentor, "The most impressive thing to me about Leonard is how he faced the potential obstacles that playing Spock presented to him. Science fiction was a different thing 40 years ago than it is today, and watching him redefine his creative journey, and become a director, a writer, an amazing photographer and a genius art collector. These are things that define someone's life more than just being an actor."

Last words on doomed plane: 'We're down'

- The National Transportation Safety Board began hearings Tuesday on a plane crash near Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 49 people on the plane and one on the ground.

The agency released the transcript of the cockpit voice recorder in the last seconds before Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed, CNN reported. Capt. Marvin Renslow, the pilot, said "Jesus Christ" and "We're down," there was a banging noise and the first officer, Rebecca Shaw said "We're …" and then screamed.

While Mark Rosenker, chairman of the NTSB, said the hearing will not try to fix blame for the crash, there are expected to be a lot of questions about Renslow's background, training and actions before the crash.

Renslow did not tell his employer, Colgan Air, that he failed three federal flying tests, The Buffalo News reported Tuesday. He reported only one failure.

Shaw and Renslow engaged in chitchat shortly before the crash, a violation of FAA rules about low-altitude behavior. Renslow also failed to act appropriately when warned that the plane was about to stall.

Colgan is under contract to Continental as a feeder carrier.

Get out the brooms: Cavs complete sweep of Hawks

The Cleveland Cavaliers were able to complete a four-game sweep that put them in the NBA's conference finals. The Denver Nuggets did not. LeBron James pumped in 27 points as the Cavaliers pulled out an 84-74 triumph in Atlanta to complete their second consecutive four-game sweep. The Cavs led by just four until James converted a three-point play with 2:03 remaining, igniting a game-ending 8-2 run.

James also provided eight rebounds and eight assists for Cleveland, which extended its NBA-record streak for double-digit victories to eight.

Delonte West chipped in 21 points to help the Cavs earn the right to face either Boston or Orlando in the next round.

Josh Smith had a team-high 26 points for the Hawks, who still haven't won a conference semifinal game since 1997.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks are still alive in the Western Conference semis following a 119-117 triumph over the Nuggets in Game 4. Dirk Nowitzki scored 19 of his 44 points in the fourth quarter, including a basket with 65 seconds left to put the Mavs ahead to stay.

Josh Howard finished with 21 points for the Mavericks, who trailed by 14 in the second quarter and were down by five entering the final period.

The Nuggets failed to close out the series despite Carmelo Anthony's career playoff-high 41 points. Anthony drained a three-pointer with 3.1 seconds left to get Denver within a point before Jason Terry hit a free throw for the final margin.

The Nuggets will host Game 5 Wednesday.

Big Unit gets 298th W, Giants beat Nationals 11-7

Randy Johnson struck out nine in his 298th career victory, and Randy Winn had three hits and scored three runs in the San Francisco Giants' 11-7 win over the Washington Nationals on Monday night.

Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 29 games and went 4 for 5 with two homers for the Nationals, including a three-run shot in the ninth.

Zimmerman also hit a solo shot in the sixth off the 6-foot-10 Johnson (3-3), who yielded eight hits and four runs while outdueling 6-foot-9 Daniel Cabrera in the tallest pitching matchup in baseball history.

Travis Ishikawa had three hits and drove in two runs for the Giants, who produced their biggest run total of the season in their 14th victory in 20 games.

Johnson, San Francisco's 45-year-old left-hander, threw five strong innings before fading in the sixth after a long, chilly stroll around the basepaths while the Giants drew five consecutive walks and scored five unearned runs in their eighth straight victory over Washington.

The Giants had given Johnson more than one run of support just once this season before pounding Cabrera (0-4) for their fourth victory in five games. Cabrera gave up eight hits and six walks, including four straight free passes to close his 12th straight start without a victory.

At least Zimmerman wasted no time extending the longest hitting streak in the Nationals' brief history and the longest by a third baseman in a quarter-century when he slapped a first-inning single. With his ninth-inning shot off the tin covering on the right-field arcade, Zimmerman improved to 48 for 126 (.381) since the streak began.

Josh Willingham and Ronnie Belliard hit solo homers for Washington, which has the majors' worst record at 10-20.

After Zimmerman's two-out homer in the ninth off reliever Osiris Matos, Washington got two more runners on, forcing the Giants to use closer Brian Wilson. He struck out Willingham on three pitches for his eighth save in 10 opportunities.

The Big Unit and the towering Cabrera measure a combined 163 inches — one more than the combined heights of Cabrera and Mark Hendrickson on Sept. 1, 2004, in the previous record-holding matchup, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Giants rallied in the fifth because Willingham terribly misjudged Fred Lewis' two-out fly to left. The ball landed behind Willingham as he ran forward with his glove raised, allowing Pablo Sandoval and Winn to score.

Cabrera immediately fell apart, issuing four straight walks, one intentional. Reliever Logan Kensing then walked Sandoval to put the Giants up 8-2.

Notes:@ Ishikawa tumbled headfirst into the seats along the first-base line in the second inning to catch a foul pop by Wil Nieves. ... Willingham's homer was the 400th allowed in Johnson's career. Jamie Moyer is the only active pitcher to give up more homers. ... Matos beat out a single to shallow right field in the eighth for his first major-league hit and RBI.

Ryan O'Neal in `awe' of Farrah Fawcett's courage

Ryan O'Neal said Farrah Fawcett's strength in the shadow of cancer has made him love her more than ever.

"She's so much more of a woman and powerful, courageous, fearless and all those adjectives. And I look at her with awe," he said in an interview with Meredith Vieira for NBC's "Today."

Vieira also talked to Fawcett's friend, Alana Stewart, for reports airing on the "Today" show Wednesday and Thursday.

O'Neal and Stewart participated in the documentary titled "Farrah's Story," a video diary of the actress' fight against anal cancer that has spread to her liver. The film airs Friday on NBC.

O'Neal and the "Charlie's Angels" star had a long romantic relationship that ended in the late 1990s and are parents of a son, Redmond O'Neal.

Ryan O'Neal said Fawcett has managed to joke about her illness and his own battle against chronic myelogenous leukemia, which was diagnosed in 2001.

"She asked me once, `Am I gonna make it?' She asked me that a couple of weeks ago," O'Neal recounted. "I said, `Yeah, sure, you'll make it. And if you don't, I'll go with you.'

Fawcett then joked that he should stop taking Gleevec, the medicine O'Neal uses to treat leukemia, he said.

"She's the rock. She taught us all how to cope," O'Neal said. "She's extraordinary. I don't know what I'll do without her, to tell you the truth."

Obama's Day: Health costs, top cops and poetry

President Barack Obama continues the theme of affordable health care today, a day after enlisting the help of the health industry in lowering future costs over 10 years.

The White House says the president will participate in a round table with business leaders to discuss cutting employer health care costs.

Obama will be joined by Vice President Joe Biden for a ceremony honoring the National Association of Police Organization's Top Cops award winners. Attorney General Eric Holder will also attend.

In the evening, the president and first lady Michelle Obama will host an evening of poetry, music and the spoken word in the East Room in an event to be streamed live on the Internet.

Vatican defends Benedict from Israeli criticism

The Vatican has defended Pope Benedict XVI amid growing Israeli criticism of his speech at the country's national Holocaust memorial.

Israeli critics have complained the German-born pope failed to explicitly mention Nazis or Germans in Monday's speech. They say he also didn't mention his past as a Hitler Youth movement member.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters Tuesday that the pope "can't mention everything every time he speaks."

The spokesman claimed Benedict was never in the Hitler Youth. However, the pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said in a 1997 book he was forced into the movement.

The pope pledged to remember the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust upon arriving in Israel on Monday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI took his message of peace to the most contentious site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Tuesday, urging both sides to engage in "a sincere dialogue aimed at building a world of justice and peace."

On the second day of his Holy Land tour, the pope visited the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, and the adjacent Western Wall, revered by Jews as a remnant of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

Competing claims to the hilltop compound — known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and Jews as the Temple Mount — have sparked violence in the past. Resolving the dispute has been the most intractable issue during more than 15 years of on-and-off Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

"In a world sadly torn by divisions, this sacred place serves as a stimulus, and also challenges men and women of goodwill to work to overcome misunderstandings and conflicts of the past and set out on the path of a sincere dialogue aimed at building a world of justice and peace for coming generations," the pope said during a meeting with the top Islamic cleric in Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein.

Hussein said afterward he gave the pope a letter complaining about Israeli policies in Jerusalem and appealing for the Vatican's help in bringing about Palestinian independence.

"We reiterate to you that peace and stability in this country ... can only be achieved with the end of occupation and with our Palestinian people regaining their freedom, their right to self-determination and their other legitimate rights," said the letter.

Benedict angered many in the Muslim world three years ago when he quoted a medieval text that characterized some of Islam's Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

He later expressed regret that his comments offended Muslims and spent three days in Jordan before coming to Israel as part of his outreach to the Islamic world.

Before meeting with Hussein, Benedict visited the mosque at the Dome of the Rock, the most sacred Muslim shrine in Jerusalem and part of the compound that is Islam's third-holiest site. He removed his red shoes before entering as a sign of respect, and a priest helped him slip them back on as he left.

At one point, Palestinian activists released hundreds of red, green and black balloons over the Old City, representing the colors of the Palestinian flag. One cluster of balloons held a Palestinian flag, the other the yellow and white Vatican flag. The pope was inside meeting the cleric and did not see the colorful display.

Following tradition, Benedict inserted a note between the ancient crevices of the Western Wall, the last remnant of the second of two biblical temples and Judaism's holiest shrine. As he placed his note in the wall, a popular custom among visitors to the site, Benedict was flanked by the wall's rabbi and two Catholic clergymen.

The written blessing asked "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" to "hear the cry of the afflicted, the fearful, the bereft; send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family."

Later Tuesday, the pope told Israel's two chief rabbis that the Catholic Church is "irrevocably committed" to "a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews."

The pope's relations with Jews have occasionally been strained. He drew criticism for a recent decision to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson, and there have been differences of opinion over whether wartime Pope Pius XII did enough to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Benedict has acknowledged mistakes were made in handling the Williamson case, and the Vatican has said he must repudiate his views if he wants to be a Roman Catholic clergyman.

One of the rabbis, Yona Metzger, said he was glad that Benedict has not allowed Williamson to rejoin the clergy.

"If he had not reconsidered, it would have been a message to that same Holocaust denier in Iran that he too can carry out a Holocaust," said Metzger, referring to statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has questioned whether the Nazi genocide took place.

Metzger also said he was glad the pope called anti-Semitism "not only a sin against Jews but against God."

Jews suffered centuries of persecution at the hands of the church, which traditionally held them responsible for rejecting and killing Jesus. Beginning with the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the church officially disavowed that view, rejected anti-Semitism and started dialogue with other religions.

Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, made huge strides in the relationship, asking forgiveness on several occasions, including during his landmark 2000 trip to Israel, for the wrongs inflicted by Christians on Jews.

On Tuesday, Benedict also visited the traditional site of the Last Supper, which is at the center of a property dispute between Israel and the church. He then attended prayers at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, where some 400 clergy and local Catholics sang in Latin, Arabic and Italian.

The pope planned to celebrate Mass with thousands of followers in the Kidron Valley, facing the Mount of Olives and the site where Christianity says Jesus was arrested.

Pakistan army: 1.3 million fled fighting in NW

Pakistani commandos dropped from helicopters behind Taliban lines in the Swat Valley on Tuesday in a widening offensive that the military said has lifted the number of refugees in the northwest to 1.3 million.

Further south, a suspected U.S. missile attack flattened a house and killed at least eight people in another militant stronghold near the Afghan border.

Choppers inserted troops into the remote Piochar area in the upper reaches of the Swat Valley, an army statement said. Officials identified it as the rear-base of an estimated 4,000 Taliban militants also entrenched in Swat's main towns. It is seen as possible hiding place of Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah.

A military spokesman declined to give details of the Piochar assault, but a senior government official expressed optimism that the battle for Swat might prove short.

"The way they (militants) are being beaten, the way their recruits are fleeing, and the way the Pakistan army is using its strategy, God willing the operation will be completed very soon," Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

Pakistani authorities launched a full-scale assault on Swat and surrounding districts last week after the Taliban pushed out from the valley on the back of a now-defunct peace deal and extended their control to areas just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.

The military response has won praise from American officials, who insist Islamabad must eliminate safe havens used by militants to undermine the pro-Western governments in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The army said Tuesday that its troops, backed by artillery and airstrikes, had killed some 700 militants in Swat and neighboring districts so far.

But the offensive has also unleashed a tide of refugees, whose plight could sap public support for the kind of sustained action against an increasingly interlinked array of Islamist extremists that the cash-strapped country's Western backers want to see.

Including some half-million who fled fighting in the Bajur border region last year, an army officer said Tuesday that the total number displaced in the northwest had risen to 1.3 million.

The U.N. has registered 360,000 refugees from the latest fighting. About 30,000 are living in hot, tented camps established just south of the war zone.

But officials acknowledge that many more have taken refuge with relatives without registering with the authorities.