Friday, March 29, 2013

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New pope's washing of women's feet is final straw of sorts for wary traditionalist Catholics

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis has won over many hearts and minds with his simple style and focus on serving the world's poorest, but he has devastated traditionalist Catholics who adored his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for restoring much of the traditional pomp to the papacy.

Francis' decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls -- a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic -- during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict's papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church.

One of the most-read traditionalist blogs, "Rorate Caeli," reacted to the foot-washing ceremony by declaring the death of Benedict's eight-year project to correct what he considered the botched interpretations of the Second Vatican Council's modernizing reforms.

"The official end of the reform of the reform -- by example," ''Rorate Caeli" lamented in its report on Francis' Holy Thursday ritual.

A like-minded commentator in Francis' native Argentina, Marcelo Gonzalez at International Catholic Panorama, reacted to Francis' election with this phrase: "The Horror." Gonzalez's beef? While serving as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's efforts to revive the old Latin Mass so dear to Benedict and traditionalists were "non-existent."

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Pope extends hand of friendship to "Muslim brothers and sisters" during Good Friday rite

ROME (AP) -- Pope Francis reached out in friendship to "so many Muslim brothers and sisters" during a Good Friday procession dedicated to the suffering of Christians from terrorism, war and religious fanaticism in the Middle East.

The new pontiff, who has rankled traditionalists by rejecting many trappings of his office, mostly stuck to the traditional script during the nighttime Way of the Cross procession at Rome's Colosseum, one of the most dramatic rituals of Holy Week.

With torches lighting the way, the faithful carried a cross to different stations, where meditations and prayers were read out recalling the final hours of Jesus' life and his crucifixion.

This year, the prayers were composed by young Lebanese, and many recalled the plight of minority Christians in the region, where wars have forced thousands to flee their homelands. The meditations called for an end to "violent fundamentalism," terrorism and the "wars and violence which in our days devastate various countries in the Middle East."

Francis, who became pope just over two weeks ago, chose, however, to stress Christians' positive relations with Muslims in the region in his brief comments at the end of the ceremony.

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AP PHOTOS: Images of Good Friday around the world

Indonesian Christians carry a bamboo cross during a Good Friday procession to reenact Jesus' path to crucifixion. At the Vatican, Pope Francis lies down in prayer during the Passion of Christ Mass inside St. Peter's Basilica. Hundreds of Christians stream through the cobblestone alleyways of Jerusalem's Old City toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed by many to be the site of the crucifixion.

Here are some images of Good Friday around the world.

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Business, labor close in on deal on low-skilled worker program for immigration bill

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Big business and major labor unions appeared ready Friday to end a fight over a new low-skilled worker program that had threatened to upend negotiations on a sweeping immigration bill in the Senate providing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who's been brokering talks between the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that negotiators are "very close, closer than we have ever been, and we are very optimistic." He said there were still a few issues remaining.

The talks stalled late last week amid a dispute over wages for workers in the new program, and senators left town for a two-week recess with the issue in limbo. Finger-pointing erupted between the AFL-CIO and the chamber, with each side accusing the other of trying to sink immigration reform, leaving prospects for a resolution unclear.

But talks resumed this week, and now officials from both sides indicate the wage issue has been largely resolved. An agreement would likely clear the way for a bipartisan group of senators to unveil legislation the week of April 8 to dramatically overhaul the U.S. immigration system, strengthening the border and cracking down on employers as well as remaking the legal immigration system while providing eventual citizenship to millions.

"We're feeling very optimistic on immigration: Aspiring Americans will receive the road map to citizenship they deserve and we can modernize 'future flow' without reducing wages for any local workers, regardless of what papers they carry," AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser said in a statement. "Future flow" refers to future arrivals of legal immigrants.

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In Miami, Obama presses plan for more private spending on public works to create jobs

MIAMI (AP) -- Trying to show that the economy remains a top priority, President Barack Obama promoted a plan Friday to create construction and other jobs by attracting private money to help rebuild roads, bridges and other public works projects.

Obama fleshed out the details during a visit to a Miami port that's undergoing $2 billion in upgrades paid for with government and private dollars. The quick trip was designed to show that the economy and unemployment are top priorities for a president who also is waging high-profile campaigns on immigration reform and gun control.

Obama said the unemployment rate among construction workers was the highest of any industry, despite being cut nearly in half over the past three years.

"There are few more important things we can do to create jobs right now and strengthen our economy over the long haul than rebuilding the infrastructure that powers our businesses and economy," Obama said. "As president, my top priority is to make sure we are doing everything we can to reignite the true engine of our economic growth -- and that is a rising, thriving middle class."

Among the proposals Obama called for, which require approval from Congress, are:

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Analysis: Despite North Korea's battle cries, no one wants or expects another Korean War

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Across North Korea, soldiers are gearing up for battle and shrouding their jeeps and vans with camouflage netting. Newly painted signboards and posters call for "death to the U.S. imperialists" and urge the people to fight with "arms, not words."

But even as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is issuing midnight battle cries to his generals to ready their rockets, he and his million-man army know full well that a successful missile strike on U.S. targets would be suicide for the outnumbered, out-powered North Korean regime.

Despite the hastening drumbeat of warfare -- seemingly bringing the region to the very brink of conflict with threats and provocations -- Pyongyang aims to force Washington to the negotiating table, pressure the new president in Seoul to change policy on North Korea, and build unity inside the country without triggering a full-blown war.

North Korea wants to draw attention to the tenuousness of the armistice designed to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula, a truce Pyongyang recently announced it would no longer honor as it warned that war could break out at any time.

In July, it will be 60 years since North Korea and China signed an armistice with the U.S. and the United Nations to bring an end to three years of fighting that cost millions of lives. The designated Demilitarized Zone has evolved into the most heavily guarded border in the world.

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North Korea says it is in a 'state of war' with South Korea in latest threat against rival

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea declared Saturday it has entered "a state of war" with South Korea in the latest of a string of threats that have raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea's government, parties and organizations said in a joint statement that all matters between the two countries will now be dealt with in a manner befitting war

The Korean Peninsula is already in a technical state of war because the Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. But Pyongyang ditched that armistice earlier this month.

South Korea's Unification Ministry quickly released a statement calling the latest threat not new and saying it is a follow-up to Kim's earlier order to put troops on a high alert in response to annual U.S-South Korean defense drills. Pyongyang sees those drills as rehearsals for an invasion.

On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned his forces were ready "to settle accounts with the U.S." after two American B-2 bombers flew a training mission in South Korea.

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Capitalizing on weapons influx, Syrian rebels are in strategic battle for southern Syria

BEIRUT (AP) -- Capitalizing on a recent influx of weapons, Syrian rebels are waging a strategic battle for the southern part of the country and seeking to secure a corridor from the Jordanian border to Damascus in preparation for an eventual assault on the capital.

On Friday, the rebels celebrated their latest victory: They seized full control of Dael, a key town along a main highway, after forces of President Bashar Assad's regime all but withdrew from the area.

"God is great! We are coming, Bashar!" armed fighters cried overnight Thursday after they captured the last of the military checkpoints in the town where Assad's forces had been holed up, according to amateur video posted online.

Dael is one of the bigger towns in the southern Daraa province, where the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, when security forces arrested high school students who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall.

Activists say it was in Dael that the first statue of Assad's father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad, was first toppled shortly after the protests broke out.

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Oklahoma agency: Dental clinic inspections unnecessary because health scares are so rare

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- The Oklahoma agency that accused a Tulsa oral surgeon of unsanitary practices, putting thousands of people at risk for hepatitis and HIV, says it's never needed to inspect medical offices regularly.

"This doesn't happen," Susan Rogers, the executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, said Friday. "There's not been a need for these inspections because we've never had a complaint like this."

That's not unusual. Some other states don't routinely inspect clinics, either, noting they don't have the money and such incidents are so rare that the need just isn't there.

In Oklahoma, the Board of Dentistry's small staff does inspections only if the agency receives a complaint. That's what happened in the case of Dr. W. Scott Harrington, whose practice was inspected after officials determined a patient may have contracted hepatitis C while having dental surgery.

State epidemiologist Kristy Bradley and Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart sent letters Friday to all 7,000 patients they found in Harrington's 6-year-old records, urging them to be screened for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and the virus that causes AIDS because of unsafe practices at his two clinics. More patients may be at risk, but Harrington's files go back only to 2007.

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Burke leads improbable rally, Michigan beats Kansas 87-85 in overtime for regional final berth

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Trey Burke shook off one of his worst starts with the best shot of his life.

Burke bounced back from a scoreless first half to score 23 points, including a long, never-a-doubt 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation, and Michigan rallied to beat Kansas 87-85 in overtime in the South Regional semifinals Friday night.

The fourth-seeded Wolverines wiped out a 10-point Kansas lead in the last 3 minutes of regulation, and Burke gave them their first lead since early in the game with another long 3 to open Michigan's scoring in overtime.

"This guy was a champ all the way through it," Michigan coach John Beilein said.

They'll certainly remember this one in Ann Arbor for a while.