Pope Benedict XVI presided over Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, delivering a homily that focused on the "essence" of the holiday rather than the "commercial celebration" it has become.
"Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God's humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity," the pope said after recalling the story of Christmas. "Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light."
The 84-year-old pope, presiding over his seventh mass as pontiff, also conjured up an image of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, explaining that visitors must bend down to enter its low opening, drawing a tie to what followers of Christ must do to find their faith.
"If we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our 'enlightened' reason," he said. "... In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped."
The pope started off Saturday's celebrations by lighting a peace candle in the window of his study during the unveiling of a larger-than-life nativity scene in St. Peter's Square. The scene, at 23 feet high and 82 feet wide, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, according to the Vatican's news agency.FULL STORY
Evangelist Billy Graham returned to his home in Montreat, North Carolina, Tuesday afternoon following a six-day stay at nearby Mission Hospital in Asheville for treatment of pneumonia.
Graham's longtime spokesman A. Larry Ross tweeted on Tuesday: "Evangelist Billy Graham was released from Mission Hospital this afternoon, and will be home for the holidays!"
And he added, "Upon discharge from Mission Hospital, Billy Graham expressed gratitude for thoughts and prayers from around the world."
Graham was hospitalized on Wednesday, according to a release from the hospital.FULL STORY
Evangelist Billy Graham is showing signs of improvement as he continues to recover from pneumonia in a North Carolina hospital, a spokeswoman for Asheville's Mission Hospital said Sunday.
The 93-year-old Graham was admitted to the hospital Wednesday in stable condition.
"Doctors are encouraged by Mr. Graham's significant clinical progress, but have not yet set a date for discharge," hospital spokeswoman Merrell Gregory said in a statement.
Gregory also reported progress in Graham's physical therapy, saying he is "walking more in the private corridor outside his room."
Graham was visited over the weekend by his family, according to Gregory. He also watched on television his pastor deliver his regular Sunday sermon, she said.
This is Graham's second bout with pneumonia this year. He was previously hospitalized for the infection in May.FULL STORY
Evangelist Billy Graham is in "good spirits" and resting comfortably in an Asheville, North Carolina, hospital Thursday, a day after he was admitted for evaluation and treatment of his lungs, a spokesman said.
Graham spent time reading the Bible and praying with his daughter, Gigi, Wednesday night, Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross said on Twitter.
When Graham - who turned 93 on November 7 - was admitted to Mission Hospital, "he was alert, smiling and waving at hospital staff," according to a statement from the hospital.
"While no date has been set for discharge, Mr. Graham is looking forward to returning home to spend the upcoming Christmas holidays with his family," the statement said.FULL STORY
For those of you who haven't been paying attention, it could be your last day here on Earth.
At 6 p.m. Saturday, according to radio host Harold Camping, the Day of Rapture and the start of Judgment Day begins.
At this writing there have been no reports of people being taken up into heaven, but plenty of folks are talking about it.
Jim Brenneman, a cartoonist and CNN iReporter in Marcellus, New York, said he expects to remain on Earth, but you never know.
"Although I assume that I've lived a sinful life and will probably be here on Sunday, there is a small chance that maybe I was better than I thought and might get sucked up into the heavens on Saturday with all the other self-righteous wing nuts," he said. "If that happens, feel free to have my stuff. But probably not! Let the Looting Begin! HAPPY APOCALYPSE EVERYONE!!"
Brenneman posted a cartoon envisioning himself being caught up.
Another iReporter, Greg Reese, created an entertaining – and thought-provoking – video from interviews with people on the streets of Cincinnati.
The top Twitter trend on Saturday morning was #endoftheworldconfessions. Among them:
Lord_Valdemort7: "I 'let the dogs out.' It was me."
Firenzeii: "You know your cute little bunny rabbit? The one you called Fluffy and loved more than anything else? I ate him."
BiebersNachos: "I loved, I love and I will always love this sexy badass singer called Justin Drew Bieber "
WagTheFox: "You really do look fat in those jeans. There. I said it."
CNN iReporter Jutka T. Emoke Barabas from Honolulu just isn't that into the Rapture.
"We have better things to do, like take care of our environment," the iReporter said. "Today we should reflect about what we could do that our planet would be a better and more livable place for everyone in the future and not think about the end of our planet."
She said she drew a picture of Earth covered with different trees because she was tired of hearing about all this "doomsday business." While still on the Earth, Barabas suggested, "just plant a tree."
She said she plans to do just that on Sunday for the people affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
CNN iReporter Cameron Harrelson, 16, from southern Georgia, started researching the idea of Saturday as Judgment Day after his literature teacher had students express their thoughts on the day in their class journals.
"The Bible tells us no man, not even Jesus, knows the day he will return," Harrelson said, and so those predicting the day are trying to elevate themselves to the status of God.
"I am ready if it happens tonight a 6 o'clock, but I don't think it is very likely," he said.
Manny Pacquaio's latest fight could be much tougher than pounding on “Sugar” Shane Mosley for 12 rounds.
Fresh off his trouncing of the American welterweight contender, Pacquiao, 32 – who also serves as a Sarangani representative in the Filipino Congress – has entered the ring again to denounce a reproductive health bill that he and his fellow lawmakers are considering.
The bill has several controversial provisions, such as the requirement that women experiencing problems after abortions, which would still be banned, must be treated humanely and compassionately.
Pacquiao and President Benigno Aquino III, a backer of the bill, agree abortion should be outlawed, The Manila Times reported. Where they part ways is on the issue of contraception, according to Filipino media.
The Rev. Billy Graham, 92, was admitted Wednesday for treatment of a pulmonary condition following a health episode overnight, according to Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina.
Initial testing suggested pneumonia, and further tests showed Graham's heart was normal, the hospital said in a statement.
The minister was reported to be in stable condition and fully alert.FULL STORY
Good Friday – Non-Orthodox Christians are observing Good Friday, the solemn commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI will lead a "Way of the Cross" ceremony at 3:15 p.m. ET at the Colosseum in Rome, followed by Mass at the Vatican at 5 p.m. ET.
A prosecutor and a public defender in Richmond, Virginia, will put on a mock trial with Jesus facing capital punishment. The audience will be the jury in the sentencing phase and decide his fate.
Meanwhile, a pastor looks at the connections and possible conflicts between Earth Day and Good Friday.
Earth Day – Friday also is Earth Day, an observance meant to draw attention to environmental issues, including energy conservation. Here's a list of 10 simple things you can do to go easy on your world.
The five most popular stories on CNN.com in the past 24 hours, according to NewsPulse.
Water radiation spurs leakage fears: Authorities in Japan raised the prospect Friday of a likely breach in the all-important containment vessel of the No. 3 reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a potentially ominous development in the race to prevent a large-scale release of radiation.
Kirstie Alley slams George Lopez for pig joke: "Dancing With the Stars" contestant Kirstie Alley is putting her foot down and blasting comedian George Lopez for comparing her to a pig on his talk show, reports Entertainment Weekly.
Docs operate without anesthesia at hospital: For days, the wounded just kept coming to the 60-bed central hospital in Misrata, a city under siege from forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. But there were no empty beds, no electricity – only generator power. No anesthesia or painkillers.
Christian to Muslim - A change of faith: The actual conversion was brief. It only involved one sentence: “I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship but God, I bear witness that Mohammed is the messenger of God.” For 30-year-old Mathew Miller, those words represented the culmination of a long religious transformation from Christianity to Islam.
A concerned evangelical's open letter to Charlie Sheen: As one of your 3 million Twitter followers, I’ve given you the ability to speak into my life in 140 characters or less, so I figure the least I can do is return the favor. I’m asking you to put away the Tiger Blood T-shirts and pull back from the Hollywood media blitz long enough to consider the following.
As if Charlie Sheen didn’t have enough problems, like having his show canceled and sons taken, now his ex-wife is saying he poses a risk to their daughters, TMZ reported. Richards said she is “disgusted” with Sheen and called him unstable, saying she didn’t want him or his “goddesses” – girlfriends Bree Olsen and Natalie Kenly – around daughters Sam, 6, and Lola, 5, according to the website.
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights says she has a good reason for not attending the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Friday’s ceremony coincides with Human Rights Day, and Pillay is scheduled to host a meeting with human rights defenders in Switzerland, spokesman Richard Colville told Foreign Policy.
Yang Jianli, another Chinese dissident who represents Liu before the Nobel committee, isn’t buying it. He called Pillay's decision not to attend “a clear and unequivocal abdication of her responsibilities as high commissioner.”
He also blasted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for failing to raise Liu’s case when he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao shortly after the Nobel committee’s announcement.
Though Yang claims that the U.N. is buckling to pressure from China, Colville said Pillay – a South African lawyer who got her start defending opponents of apartheid – simply couldn’t bow out of the Swiss event.
According to BBC, 19 countries including China will not attend the ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Forty-four will attend.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu told the BBC that China would not change because of “interference by a few clowns.”
China has mounted a campaign to dissuade nations from attending the ceremony and said through its state-run media that 100 countries back its stance. Xinhua further cited a professor as saying that Liu was a “Chinese criminal [who] challenged China’s judicial authority and interfered in China’s internal affairs."
The Nobel Committee, of course, sees it differently and applauds Liu’s calls for multi-party democracy and human rights reforms.
In other developments this week: Liu’s lawyers said they were prevented from appealing their client’s charges; they say they were also prevented from visiting Liu’s wife, who has been under house arrest since the Nobel announcement; and an Australian-based Chinese dissident was detained in Shanghai en route to Oslo, The Australian reported.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: "The only thing in this article that catches my attention is that it costs $18,500 to promote Christ and $20,000 to denounce him!" - BetweenTheLines
An atheist billboard that calls Christmas "a myth" has sparked a growing controversy. The billboard is near the Lincoln Tunnel, a 1.5-mile-long twin tube that connects New Jersey to New York. The full message, which appears with a nativity scene, reads: "You know it's a myth. This season, celebrate reason." A pro-Christmas billboard was erected in response.
Readers were largely incensed by the billboard, with commenting atheists debating the particulars of their views and joining the oppositional chorus over the sign's content and cost.
A Christian Pakistani woman sentenced to death for blasphemy is innocent and should be released, Pakistan's minister for minority affairs told CNN.
Shahbaz Bhatti reached his conclusion after a three-day investigation into allegations that Bibi defiled the name of the Prophet Mohammed during an argument last year with Muslim fellow field workers.
Bhatti said he personally submitted his finding to President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday and recommended Bibi be freed.
"This case was filed on the basis of religious and personal enmity," Bhatti said.
Despite the minister's recommendation, it is still not clear if or when Bibi will be pardoned by the president.
Pope Benedict XVI's possible shift on condom use is a "significant and positive step forward," the head of the United Nations anti-AIDS campaign said, welcoming the potentially historic remark.
"This move recognizes that responsible sexual behavior and the use of condoms have important roles in HIV prevention," UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe said in a statement.
"This will help accelerate the HIV prevention revolution," he said Saturday.
The Roman Catholic Church firmly opposes artificial contraception, including condoms.
Spider-Man is real! – Unemployment is a diabolical foe in New York City. Peter Parker can attest to that. His alter-ego Spider-Man was in town Wednesday alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg to unveil a comic book called "Spider-Man, You're Hired," promoting the city's free career services. You'll notice Spidey didn't arrive on a web or crawl down a building. I guess he took the subway. Don't judge. He's probably tired from filling out job applications.
The man who will take on Manny Pacquiao for the junior middleweight title at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday has not fought in the United States in almost two years.
In January 2009, the California Athletic Commission accused Margarito of having a plaster-like substance in the hand wraps under his gloves before a fight with “Sugar” Shane Mosley, according to The Miami Herald.
Not only did Mosley knock out Margarito in the ninth round, but the commission suspended Margarito’s and his trainer’s boxing licenses. Though Margarito says he was unaware the wraps were illegal, the claim has been met with some skepticism.
Though he hasn’t fought again in the U.S., the 32-year-old fighter won a match in Mexico six months ago. FULL POST
One of the young men who has accused a Georgia pastor of sexual coercion told Atlanta television station WAGA that he wanted to send a message to Bishop Eddie Long: "You are not a man. You are a monster."
"I cannot get the sound of his voice out of my head, I cannot forget the smell of his cologne and I cannot forget the way that he made me cry many nights when I drove in his cars on the way home," Jamal Parris, 23, told a WAGA reporter who traveled to Colorado to interview him.
Parris - a former church employee and personal assistant to Long - filed one of four lawsuits last week accusing the Baptist televangelist of coercing young male church members into having sex with him.
Long's spokesman, Art Franklin, has said that the pastor "categorically and adamantly denies" the allegations, adding that they were "a case of retaliation and a shakedown for money by men with some serious credibility issues."
Long's Attorney Craig Gillen said Wednesday that Long's accusers and their lawyers were unfairly trying the pastor in the media.
"The appropriate place to try lawsuits is in the courtroom," Gillen said. "There are rules on how civil litigation is to take place and how counsel should conduct themselves, we intend to follow those rules."
Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday the Roman Catholic Church has not been vigilant enough or fast enough in responding to the problem of sexual abuse by priests.
"These revelations were for me a shock and a great sadness. It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible," he told reporters aboard his plane to Scotland. "How a man who has done this and said this can fall into this perversion is difficult to understand."
He added, "It is also a great sadness that the authorities of the church were not sufficiently vigilant and insufficiently quick and decisive in taking the necessary measures."
A group representing priestly abuse victims promptly criticized the pope's remarks, saying he should have called for more.
The five most popular stories on CNN.com during the past 24 hours, according to NewsPulse.
California fire scene 'like a moonscape': The gas line fire in San Bruno, California, that killed four people and destroyed 38 homes has been fully contained with some small hot spots, authorities say.
MTV VMAs' shocking style moments: From the very beginning of the MTV Video Music Awards, stars like Madonna have aimed to please fans by shocking them with a combination of risqué routines and outré fashion.
The pastor at a Florida church that planned to burn copies of the Quran added to confusion Friday over whether he intends to go ahead with the controversial event.
The Rev. Terry Jones told CBS' "The Early Show" that "we have called the event off." Soon afterward, however, he told reporters in Florida the burning is still being contemplated.
"We are seriously, seriously, seriously considering not burning the Qurans. That is absolutely right," Jones said.
Challenged by a reporter, Jones then said, "Well, we are hoping that we can come to a conclusion."
"Are you or aren't you?" a reporter asked, to which Jones replied, "We're actually not prepared to answer that right now."