Benedict's legacy: A teacher pope who sought to bring church back to conservative roots
VATICAN CITY (AP) — On Monday, April 4, 2005, a priest walked up to the Renaissance palazzo housing the Vatican's doctrine department and asked the doorman to call the official in charge: It was the first day of business after Pope John Paul II had died, and the cleric wanted to get back to work.
The office's No. 2, Archbishop Angelo Amato, answered the phone and was stunned. This was no ordinary priest. It was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his boss, who under the Vatican's arcane rules had technically lost his job when John Paul died.
"It tells me of the great humility of the man, the great sense of duty, but also the great awareness that we are here to do a job," said Bishop Charles Scicluna, who worked with Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI, inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In resigning, Scicluna said, Benedict is showing the same sense of humility, duty and service as he did after the Catholic Church lost its last pope.
"He has done his job."
Pope recalls moments of 'joy and light' — but also difficulties in emotional final audience
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI bid an emotional farewell Wednesday on the eve of his retirement, recalling moments of "joy and light" during his papacy, but also times of difficulty when "it seemed like the Lord was sleeping."
Some 150,000 people, many waving banners proclaiming "Grazie!" flooded St. Peter's Square, eager to bear witness to the final hours of a papacy that will go down in history as the first in 600 years to end in resignation rather than death.
Benedict basked in the emotional send-off, taking a long victory lap around the square in an open-sided car, and stopping to kiss and bless half a dozen babies. Seventy cardinals, some tearful, sat in solemn attendance — and gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
Benedict then made a quick exit, forgoing the meet-and-greet session that typically follows his weekly general audience, as if to not prolong the goodbye.
Given the weight of the moment, Benedict also replaced his usual Wednesday catechism lesson with a heartfelt final address, explaining once again why he was retiring and assuring his flock of 1.2 billion that he was not abandoning them.
Fighting tears, father of Newtown victim asks Senate committee to ban assault weapons
WASHINGTON (AP) — After weeks of arguing constitutional fine points and citing rival statistics, senators wrangling over gun control saw and heard the anguish of a bereft father.
Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was among those cut down at a Connecticut elementary school in December, asked the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to ban assault weapons like the one that killed his child.
"I'm not here for the sympathy or the pat on the back," Heslin, a 50-year-old construction worker, told the senators, weeping openly during much of his hushed 11-minute testimony. "I'm here to speak up for my son."
At his side were photos: of his son as a baby, of them both taken on Father's Day, six months before Jesse was among 20 first-graders and six administrators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That massacre has hoisted gun control to a primary political issue this year, though the outcome remains uncertain.
The hearing's focus was legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds. A Bushmaster assault weapon was used at Newtown by the attacker, Adam Lanza, whose body was found with 30-round magazines.
Days numbered for key part of voting rights law? Conservative justices skeptical of need
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court's conservative justices voiced deep skepticism Wednesday about a section of a landmark civil rights law that has helped millions of Americans exercise their right to vote.
In an ominous note for supporters of the key provision of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy both acknowledged the measure's vital role in fighting discrimination and suggested that other important laws in U.S. history had run their course. "Times change," Kennedy said during the fast-paced, 70-minute argument.
Kennedy's views are likely to prevail on the closely divided court, and he tends to side with his more conservative colleagues on matters of race.
The court's liberals and conservatives engaged in a sometimes tense back-and-forth over whether there is an ongoing need in 2013 for the part of the voting rights law that requires states with a history of discrimination, mainly in the Deep South, to get approval before making changes in the way elections are held.
Justice Antonin Scalia called the law a "perpetuation of racial entitlement."
Can this marriage survive? Tycoon proposes to send couple on 16-month flight to Mars and back
WASHINGTON (AP) — It's a road trip that could test the best of marriages: Mars.
A tycoon announced plans Wednesday to send a middle-aged couple on a privately built spaceship to slingshot around the red planet and come back home, hopefully with their bodies and marriage in one piece after 501 days of no-escape togetherness in a cramped capsule half the size of an RV.
Under the audacious but bare-bones plan, the spacecraft would blast off less than five years from now and pass within 100 miles of the Martian surface. The cost was not disclosed, but outsiders put it at more than $1 billion.
The team of space veterans behind the project hasn't quite figured out the technical details of the rocket they will use or the capsule the husband-and-wife astronauts will live in during the 16-month voyage. But they know it will be an adventure not for the weak of body or heart.
"This is not going to be an easy mission," chief technical officer and potential crew member Taber MacCallum said. "We called it the Lewis and Clark trip to Mars."
American pianist Van Cliburn, whose 1958 triumph at a Moscow competition impressed world, dies
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — For a time in Cold War America, Van Cliburn had all the trappings of a rock star: sold-out concerts, adoring, out-of-control fans and a name recognized worldwide. He even got a ticker-tape parade in New York City.
And he did it all with only a piano and some Tchaikovsky concertos.
The celebrated pianist played for every American president since Harry Truman, plus royalty and heads of state around the world. But he is best remembered for winning a 1958 piano competition in Moscow that helped thaw the icy rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Cliburn, who died Wednesday at 78 after fighting bone cancer, was "a great humanitarian and a brilliant musician whose light will continue to shine through his extraordinary legacy," said his publicist and longtime friend Mary Lou Falcone. "He will be missed by all who knew and admired him, and by countless people he never met."
The young man from the small east Texas town of Kilgore was a baby-faced 23-year-old when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow just six months after the Soviets' launch of Sputnik embarrassed the U.S. and inaugurated the space race.
Michelle Obama highlights obesity progress in Mississippi, says more work to do around US
CLINTON, Miss. (AP) — Michelle Obama on Wednesday congratulated this Southern state for a more than 13 percent drop in its child obesity rates and said its example should inspire the rest of the country.
It's the reason the first lady made Mississippi the first stop on a two-day tour to promote her signature effort, the anti-childhood obesity campaign she launched three years ago called "Let's Move."
In remarks at an elementary school near Jackson, Mrs. Obama cited new research showing that childhood obesity rates among elementary school pupils in the state had declined by more than 13 percent between 2005 and 2011.
"What's happening here in Mississippi is really what 'Let's Move' is all about," she told an audience of state officials, school nutrition professionals and parents. She urged them to keep on doing what they've been doing.
"It's the story of what you all have achieved here that we want to tell. It's the story we want to be telling in every state all across this country," the first lady said.
Obama unveils Rosa Parks statue; first full-length statue of black woman in Capitol
WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's most powerful politicians honored Rosa Parks on Wednesday by unveiling her statue in a permanent place in the U.S. Capitol. President Barack Obama praised Parks as an enduring reminder of what true leadership requires, "no matter how humble or lofty our positions."
Parks became the first black woman to be depicted in a full-length statue in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. A bust of another black woman, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, sits in the Capitol Visitors Center.
"We do well by placing a statue of her here," Obama said. "But we can do no greater honor to her memory than to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction."
The unveiling brought Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leaders together in the midst of a fierce standoff over automatic spending cuts set to go into effect on Friday.
Setting that conflict aside, Obama and Boehner stood on either side of a blue drape, tugging and pulling in opposite directions on a braided cord until the cover fell to reveal a 2,700-pound bronze statue of a seated Parks, her hair in a bun under a hat, her hands crossed over her lap and clasping her purse. Obama gazed up at it, and touched its arm.
Tweeting in North Korea: New rules allow AP to share snapshots of daily life in real time
"Hello world from comms center in (hash)Pyongyang."
That Twitter missive, sent Monday from Koryolink's main service center in downtown Pyongyang using my iPhone, marked a milestone for North Korea: It was believed to be the first tweet sent from a cellphone using the country's new 3G mobile data service.
Later, as we were driving through Pyongyang, I used my iPhone to snap a photo of a new roadside banner referring to North Korea's controversial Feb. 12 nuclear test while AP's Chief Asia photographer David Guttenfelder uploaded an image to Instagram of a tour guide at a mountain temple, geotagged to Pyongyang.
Pretty ordinary stuff in the world of social media, but revolutionary for North Korea, a country with intricate rules to stage manage the flow of images and information both inside and beyond its borders.
In the past, rules were strict for tourists visiting North Korea. On a bus journey across the Demilitarized Zone into the border city of Kaesong in 2008, we were told: No cellphones, no long camera lenses, no shooting photos without permission. The curtains were drawn to prevent us from looking outside as we drove through the countryside, and through the cracks we could see soldiers stationed along the road with red flags. We were warned they'd raise those flags and stop the bus for inspection if they spotted a camera pointed out the window. As we left North Korea, immigration officials went through our cameras, clicking through the photos to make sure we weren't taking home any images that were objectionable.
Pistorius representatives: Substance found in his bedroom was to aid 'muscle recovery'
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The substance found in Oscar Pistorius' bedroom after the shooting death of his girlfriend was identified by his representatives Wednesday as Testis compositum — an herbal remedy they said is used for "muscle recovery." A product by that name also is sold as a sexual enhancer.
Testis compositum is marketed by some online retailers in both oral and injectable forms as a testosterone booster and sexual performance aid that contains the testicles, heart and embryo of pigs, among other ingredients. Some online retailers also say it can be used to treat fatigue.
At the Paralympian's bail hearing last week in the shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp, police said they found needles in Pistorius' bedroom along with the substance, which a detective initially named in court as testosterone. Prosecutors later withdrew that statement identifying the substance and said it had been sent for lab tests and couldn't be named until those tests were completed.
Pistorius spokeswoman Lunice Johnston said in an email to The Associated Press that the athlete's lawyers had confirmed that the substance is Testis compositum.
In the email, Johnston wrote that the product was being used "in aid of muscle recovery." She did not say whether the substance was the same as the product that is sold as a sex enhancer.