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Former Pope Benedict XVI Dead at Age 95



Former Pope Benedict XVI Dead at Age 95

Former Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to resign in 600 years, died on Saturday at the age of 95 in the Vatican, according to a Holy See spokesman. “With sadness, I inform you that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died today at 9.34 a.m. in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican,” a spokesman said in a written statement.

According to the Vatican, Pope Francis will preside over his predecessor’s funeral on January 5.

Benedict, the first German pope in 1,000 years, stepped down in 2013 due to failing health, leaving behind a Catholic Church beleaguered by sexual abuse scandals, mired in mismanagement, and divided between conservatives and progressives.

He had good relations with his successor, but his continued presence inside the Vatican after he stepped down polarized the Church ideologically even more.

Concerned about Pope Francis‘s progressive moves, conservatives looked to Benedict as the defender of tradition. Several times, he had to tell nostalgic visitors, “There is only one Pope, and his name is Francis.”

Pope Benedict, a pianist and formidable theologian, was a weak leader who struggled to impose himself on the opaque Vatican bureaucracy and stumbled from crisis to crisis during his eight-year reign.

He repeatedly apologized for the Church’s failure to root out clergy sexual abuse of children, and despite being the first pope to take serious action against abuse, his efforts failed to halt a rapid decline in church attendance in the West, particularly in Europe.

Former Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI Resigns

In 2022, an independent report in his native Germany claimed Benedict failed to act in four abuse cases while serving as Archbishop of Munich between 1977 and 1982. After being shaken by the report, he apologized in an emotional personal letter and asked for forgiveness.

In a detailed rebuttal, his lawyers argued that he was not directly to blame.

Victims’ groups claimed that the evasive response squandered an opportunity arising from a scandal that shook the Church worldwide.

On February 11, 2013, Benedict shocked the world by announcing in Latin that he was resigning, telling cardinals that he was too old and frail to lead an institution with over 1.3 billion members.

It was always going to be difficult following the death of his charismatic predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in 2005, and Benedict admitted to difficulties in an emotional farewell address.

“There were happy and light moments, but there were also difficult moments.” “There were moments… when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us, and it seemed as if the Lord was sleeping,” Benedict said to a crowd of more than 150,000 people at his last general audience.

On February 28, 2013, Benedict took up residence at the papal summer retreat at Castelgandolfo, south of Rome, while cardinals from around the world gathered in the Vatican to elect his successor.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ election

Prior to formally stepping down, Benedict and his aides chose the title “pope emeritus” and decided he would continue to wear a white cassock, albeit a slightly modified version. Some in the Church objected, claiming that he had tied his successor’s hands.

They said he should have dressed like a cardinal or a priest in red or black.

Following Pope Francis’ election on March 13, Benedict moved into a converted convent on Vatican grounds to spend his final years praying, reading, playing the piano, and receiving visitors.

He appeared in public only on rare occasions, usually for major Church ceremonies, though he paid an emotional visit to his ailing elder brother Georg, a priest, in Bavaria in June 2020. Georg died soon after, at the age of 96.

Benedict did not keep his promise to remain “hidden from the world,” and his writings in retirement occasionally caused controversy and confusion.

In a 2019 essay for a German Church magazine, he blamed the crisis over priest abuse of children on the 1960s sexual revolution, what he called homosexual cliques in seminaries, and a general collapse in morality.

Critics accused him of attempting to shift blame away from the institutional Church’s hierarchy. Conservatives, however, rejoiced, and rallied to his defense.

pope Benedict and the cardinal

Benedict and the cardinal

The ambiguity surrounding Benedict’s role reached a head in January 2020, when it was revealed that he was involved in a book written by a conservative cardinal that some saw as an attempt to influence a document Pope Francis was preparing.

As a result, Francis fired Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Benedict’s secretary, from a top Vatican position. Many people believed Ganswein misled Benedict, the cardinal, or both as a middleman between Benedict and the cardinal.

Some Vatican officials have called for clear rules regarding the status of any future pontiff who resigns as a result of the incident.

Francis has stated that if he were to resign, he would prefer the title Emeritus Bishop of Rome, as suggested by some. He has also stated that he will not live in the Vatican but rather in a Rome home for retired priests.

Benedict, an uncompromising conservative on social and theological issues, literally cloaked himself in tradition during his papacy, frequently donning fur-trimmed capes and red shoes in public appearances — a stark contrast to his successor’s more humble, down-to-earth style.

He enraged Muslims by implying that Islam is inherently violent, and he enraged Jews by rehabilitating a Holocaust denier. The gaffes and blunders reached a climax in 2012, when leaked documents revealed corruption, intrigue, and feuding within the Vatican.

As a result of the “Vatileaks” case, his butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and convicted of passing secret documents to a journalist. Benedict later forgave him. Gabriele was hired at a Vatican-owned hospital and died there in 2020.

Pope Benedict

Gay Clergy Lobby

The media speculated that the saga, which exposed allegations of a gay clergy lobby operating against the pope, might have put pressure on him to resign. Benedict insisted on stepping down because he could no longer bear the full weight of the papacy, including the exhausting international travel required by the job.

In a book-length interview published in 2016, he acknowledged his flaws but stated that his papacy was not a failure.

“Perhaps one of my weaknesses is a lack of resolve in governing and making decisions. In reality, I am more of a professor, someone who reflects and meditates on spiritual issues,” Benedict stated in the book “Last Testament,” written by German journalist Peter Seewald.

“Practical government is not my strong point and that is certainly a weakness. But I don’t consider myself a failure.” On April 16, 1927, in the southern German village of Marktl, close to Austria, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was born.

During World War II, he was forcibly enrolled in the Hitler Youth and briefly held as a prisoner of war by the Allies, but he was never a member of the Nazi party.

“Neither Ratzinger nor any member of his family were National Socialists,” wrote John Allen, a leading Church expert, in a biography of Benedict.

Ratzinger was ordained as a priest in 1951 and rose to prominence as a liberal theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council, which convened in 1962 and resulted in profound Church reform.

pope benedict

God’s Rottweiler

The Marxism and atheism of the 1968 student protests across Europe, on the other hand, prompted him to become more conservative in order to defend the faith against growing secularism.

After stints as a theology professor and then Archbishop of Munich, Ratzinger was appointed in 1981 to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the successor office to the Inquisition, where he earned the epithet “God’s Rottweiler”.

After a period of experimentation, he and Pope John Paul agreed that traditional doctrine needed to be restored in the Church.

Ratzinger first addressed the popular “liberation theology” in Latin America, ordering the one-year silence of Brazilian friar Leonardo Boff in 1985, whose writings were criticized for using Marxist ideas.

Ratzinger applied pressure on theologians, primarily in Asia, who saw non-Christian religions as part of God’s plan for humanity in the 1990s.

Ratzinger’s office condemned “radical feminism” in a 2004 document as an ideology that undermined the family and obscured the natural differences between men and women.

Benedict sought to show the world the gentler side of his nature as Pope from 2005, but he never achieved the “rock star” status of John Paul or appeared particularly at ease in the job.

Child abuse scandals dogged him for the majority of his pontificate. He called for an official investigation into abuse in Ireland, which resulted in the resignation of several bishops.

During his pontificate, however, the Vatican’s relations with once-devoutly Catholic Ireland deteriorated. In 2011, Dublin closed its embassy to the Holy See.

pope benedict

Profound consternation

Victims demanded that the International Criminal Court investigate him. The Vatican ruled that he could not be held accountable for the crimes of others, and the court declined to hear the case.

In September 2013, he denied covering up the scandals. “As for your mentioning moral abuse of minors by priests, as you know, I can only acknowledge it with profound consternation.

“However, I never attempted to conceal these facts,” he wrote in a letter to Italian author Piergiorgio Odifreddi.

Benedict visited his homeland three times as Pope, confronting its dark past at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in Poland. As a “son of Germany,” he prayed and asked why God was silent when 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, died there during World War II.

One of his trips to Germany triggered the first major crisis of his pontificate. In a 2006 university lecture, he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying that Islam had only brought evil to the world, which was spread by the sword.

Following protests that included attacks on churches in the Middle East and the killing of a nun in Somalia, the pope apologized for any confusion his speech had caused.

Later that year, in a move widely perceived as conciliatory, he made a historic trip to predominantly Muslim Turkey, praying in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque with the city’s grand mufti.


Offending the Jews

In 2008, the pope visited the United States, where he apologized for the sexual abuse scandal, promised that pedophile priests would be expelled, and consoled abuse victims. But Benedict made a series of errors in 2009.

After lifting the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, one of whom was a notorious Holocaust denier, the Jewish world and many Catholics were outraged. Benedict later stated that the Vatican should have done more research on him.

Jews were offended again in December 2009, when he relaunched the process of resurrecting his wartime predecessor Pius XII, who was accused by some Jews of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, after a two-year pause for reflection.

In March 2009, the Pope shocked the world by telling reporters on a plane flying to Africa that the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS only made matters worse.

Benedict preferred to appoint men he trusted at the Vatican, and some of his early appointments were questioned.

He appointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who had worked with him in the Vatican’s doctrinal office for years, as secretary of state, despite the fact that Bertone had no diplomatic experience. Bertone was later embroiled in a financial scandal involving the renovation of his Vatican apartment.

pope benedict

Pope Benedict wrote three encyclicals

Other religions criticized Benedict in 2007 when he approved a document that reiterated the Vatican’s position that non-Catholic Christian denominations were not full churches of Jesus Christ.

Critics saw his papacy as a concerted effort to reverse the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, which modernized the Church in sometimes turbulent ways.

Some Council decisions were rewritten by Benedict to conform to traditional practices such as the Latin Mass and highly centralized Vatican rule. One of the themes he frequently returned to was the threat of relativism, which rejected the idea that moral values were not absolute but rather relative to those who held them and the times in which they lived.

Pope Benedict wrote three encyclicals, the most important type of papal document, including Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), an attack on atheism, in 2007. The 2009 Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) declaration called for a rethinking of how the global economy is run.

Despite the difficulties that came with having two men dressed in white in the Vatican, Francis developed a warm relationship with the man who was once dubbed “the Panzer Cardinal” and described it as being like having a grandfather in the house.

“He speaks little… but with the same profundity,” Francis once said.

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After Reshaping Las Vegas, The Mirage To Be Reinvented As Part Of A Massive Hard Rock Makeover



The Mirage | AP News Image

LAS VEGAS — The Mirage will disappear from the Las Vegas Strip.

The famed tropical island-themed hotel-casino opened in 1989 with a fire-spewing volcano outside and Siegfried & Roy’s lions and dolphins within, will close its doors on Wednesday.

Frenzied final days have seen standing-room crowds wagering to win $1.6 million in slot machine progressive jackpot winnings that state regulations need to be distributed before the lights go off and the site is transformed completely.

The guest rooms are already unoccupied. The Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show “Love” ended its 18-year run earlier this month. When the gamblers go, only memories of former casino mogul Steve Wynn’s hotel, which revolutionized the casino resort sector, will remain.

After Reshaping Las Vegas, The Mirage To Be Reinvented As Part Of A Massive Hard Rock Makeover

“Las Vegas always reinvents itself,” said Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose father dealt blackjack for decades at casinos such as the now-demolished Stardust and Showboat. “The Mirage is no longer state-of-the-art.”

New Operators Hard Rock International and Florida-based Seminole Gaming intend to add 600 rooms to 3,044 in a bright new guitar-shaped hotel where the sidewalk volcano rumbles and gushes nightly. Renderings show guitar string-like beams rising from a purple 660-foot (201-meter) tower into the night sky.

“The Mirage was a transcendent property, changing the landscape of Las Vegas,” said Joe Lupo, The Mirage’s president, who will remain at the new resort. “We are confident that Hard Rock Las Vegas will do the same in 2027.”

There won’t be a demolition show like the now-demolished Tropicana casino hotel several blocks down the Strip. That 22-story building will be demolished later this year and replaced before 2028 by a baseball stadium that will serve as the home field for the relocated MLB Oakland A’s.

Some of the 127 employees who have worked at The Mirage since its inception planned to mark its end with Lupo; Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming; and Alan Feldman, a longtime MGM Resorts casino executive who is now a fellow at the gambling institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Feldman was Wynn’s initial spokesperson for the new resort.

“The doors opened to a crush of humanity, and it stayed like that for days,” Feldman recalled in an interview. “It’s difficult to describe how The Mirage transformed. One of the things was that Las Vegas expanded beyond Elvis, showgirls, round beds, and gambling.

It was more than just a gambling hall; it cost $630 million. It was the world’s biggest hotel at the time. Guests were greeted with a piña colada smell and two bronze mermaid statues on their way to the check-in desk, which featured a large shark and reef fish tank.

It boasted glamorous boutiques, celebrity-chef restaurants, and theater-sized showrooms featuring performers such as Johnny Mathis, Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton.

“Instead of neon, a garden of dozens of rich Canary Island palm trees and a cool refreshing waterfall,” Wynn said in a statement posted on Monday by his Las Vegas attorney, Donald Campbell. Wynn entitled it “An Homage to Lady Mirage.”

Despite competition from casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the expansion of tribal gaming in California, Wynn stated that The Mirage was the first new hotel built in Las Vegas in years. Its completion resulted in a virtual doubling of resort capacity over the next decade, with more than 30,000 hotel rooms, making Las Vegas one of the fastest-expanding towns in America.

“To call The Mirage a catalyst would be an understatement,” Wynn said.

New resorts 2000 included Excalibur, Luxor, Treasure Island, MGM Grand, New York-New York, Monte Carlo, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Venetian, and Paris Las Vegas. Many were funded using Wall Street bonds. Wynn purchased and demolished the 50-year-old Desert Inn to construct and operate his eponymous Wynn Resort in 2005.

Wynn, now 82 and residing in Florida, paid a $10 million punishment to Nevada casino authorities last year and severed connections with the business he helped define to resolve a years-long legal battle sparked by newspaper revelations in 2018 that he sexually harassed or abused several women at his hotels. He has consistently refuted the claims against him.

After Reshaping Las Vegas, The Mirage To Be Reinvented As Part Of A Massive Hard Rock Makeover

Feldman described The Mirage’s architecture as “an unusual and unexpected place, where people wondered, ‘How do you have all this in the middle of the desert?'”

Bo Bernhard, head of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas International Gaming Institute, investigates the emergence of the “fun economy” worldwide. He claimed that the Mirage provided Las Vegas with an exportable commodity, similar to Detroit automobiles, and established a precedent for resort building in Singapore and Sydney.

The Seminole Tribe purchased the Hard Rock brand in 2007, becoming the first Native American operator in the lucrative and competitive Las Vegas Boulevard sector. The tribe also runs seven casinos in Florida and controls the Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos chain, which has locations in 76 countries. 2016, it obtained the naming rights for Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

An off-strip former Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas was owned independently. In 2018, a company led by billionaire Richard Branson, creator of the Virgin Company, paid approximately $500 million to buy the hotel-casino from a Toronto investment behemoth. It underwent renovations and reopened in 2021 as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.


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China Tries To Go For 8-For-8 Sweep In Diving Gold At The Paris Olympics



China | AP news Image

Chinese divers won seven of eight gold medals at the previous Olympics in Tokyo, making it one of the best performances in Olympic history.

More is predicted this time in Paris.

China Tries To Go For 8-For-8 Sweep In Diving Gold At The Paris Olympics

China has dominated diving for decades. However, it has never completed the elusive gold medal sweep at the Games. In a recent article, the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official publication, called this lapse “regrettable”.

How is that for pressure?

“I hope that all of us can stand on the top of the podium,” Tokyo gold medalist Quan Hongchan said in an interview with state media.

They might, and the evidence is already startling.

China has won 47 out of 64 gold medals, dating back to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, when it earned its first diving gold. Add to that 23 silver and 10 bronze. If you start counting from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China has won 27 of 32 gold medals.

That’s almost perfect, but someone always spoils the party, such as American David Boudia, Australian Matthew Mitcham, British Tom Daley, or Russian Ilya Zakharov.

The People’s Daily called the team to “launch an all-out bid this time for gold medals in all diving events.”

Three years ago, at 14, Quan won gold on the 10-meter platform. Teammate Chen Yuxi, who won gold in synchro on the platform, was only 15. Both have returned and are most likely in separate classes.

Wang Zongyuan, the silver medalist on the 3-meter springboard in Tokyo behind teammate Xie Siyi, is expected to be the favorite in Paris.

The American Challenge
Drew Johansen will coach the United States diving team for the fourth consecutive Olympics. Wenbo Chen, the University of Minnesota’s Chinese-born coach, assists the head coach at Indiana University. Purdue coach David Boudia, who won an Olympic gold medal on the platform in 2012, is also on the staff.

Three Tokyo silver medalists are back: Andrew Capobianco, Jessica Parratto, and Delaney Schnell. They all reached the podium in synchronized events, which may provide the best opportunities for Americans and others.

Parratto will dive again with Schnell on the 10-meter synchronized platform while Capobianco is on the 3-meter springboard. He did not qualify for synchronized. Schnell and Daryn Wright will compete on the platform.

“The world has been catching up to the Chinese in all the events except for women’s platform,” Johansen told reporters. “Chinese women on the tower are still way ahead of the world.”

Sarah Bacon and Kassidy Cook have a chance in the 3-meter synchronized springboard, while Bacon and Alison Gibson should compete as soloists.

Carson Tyler is the new name to watch in both the 10-meter platform and the 3-meter springboard, a rare in both disciplines and reminiscent of Greg Louganis’ double-double gold medals in 1984 and 1988.

“Carson has shown up as a great mental performer,” Johansen added.

“We’ve managed to beat China in certain events over the years and I feel like some parity has come to the sport,” he said afterward. “We have been hovering around those gold medals and points away from getting them.”

According to Johansen, part of the objective is to create pressure on the Chinese by attempting more difficult dives that, if completed successfully, will earn them more points.

“It’s a risk-reward game,” he explained.

The Mental Game
Johansen praises Xu Yiming, who taught Chinese Olympic divers from the mid-1980s to the 2000s, for sharing his technical expertise with the rest of the globe. Johansen considers Xu a mentor from their time together while Johansen was coaching at Duke University.

China Tries To Go For 8-For-8 Sweep In Diving Gold At The Paris Olympics

“He taught me a lot of their physical techniques right after he retired,” she said.

After incorporating this knowledge, the next plateau is mental conditioning.

“I physically couldn’t train them any better,” he told me. “I didn’t know anyone who was doing it better. The only way I could help my athletes succeed was to mentally prepare them, which I didn’t know how to do.

Johansen says he’s lately started creating a “performance think tank” to educate mental focus and sports psychology. Without naming names, he stated that the team comprises a Navy SEAL, a book author, and others who practice executing under pressure.

The program was launched only a few months ago and includes Paris, but the primary focus is on the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

“We acquired China’s physical skills, but if we want to beat them, we must also overcome them intellectually. “I’m convinced of that,” Johansen stated. “We have an advantage over the Chinese if we can be mentally stronger and better performers.”


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Former President Trump Survives Being Shot at Pennsylvania Rally



former President Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents

The United States Secret Service has announced that former President Trump is safe after being shot at a rally in Pennsylvania. A video shows Trump grimacing and placing his right hand to his head before the Secret Service intervenes.

“The Secret Service has implemented protective measures and the former president is safe,” a Secret Service spokesperson said on X after what the agency called an incident. “This is now an active Secret Service investigation and further information will be released when available.”

Multiple shots were heard at the outdoor rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, shortly after President Trump began his speech.

The Secret Service then surrounded President Trump pushing him beneath the platform, while armed officers took up positions at the front of the stage. President Trump repeatedly raised his fist to the audience and shouted as he was led to a vehicle by the Secret Service.

There is no information on whom the attempted assassin may have been or if any arrests have been made.

former President Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents

President Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents – AP Image

In a statement, Trump’s communication director, Steven Cheung, said that the former president “is fine” and being checked over at an unnamed medical facility. He said President Trump thanks law enforcement and first responders for their quick action during this heinous act.

Reuters reports the venue where Trump was speaking was abandoned with chairs knocked over and yellow police tape around the stage. A helicopter flew above and law enforcement officers walked through the area, the video feed showed.

Armed law enforcement officers were also seen on a roof near the stage where President Trump was standing.

In 2020 a New York man upset with what he perceived as Donald Trump’s threat to democracy was criminally charged on Monday with threatening to kill the former president, who he once referred to as Hitler, the Guardian reported.

According to an unsealed complaint, Thomas Welnicki, 72, of Rockaway Beach, showed an interest in assassinating the then-president in an interview with US Capitol police in July 2020, as well as repeated calls to the Secret Service the following year.

Welnicki was charged with threatening to kill, kidnap, and do bodily damage to Trump. He allegedly told Capitol police that if Trump lost the 2020 election and refused to resign, he would “acquire weapons” and “take him down”. In one voicemail left with the Secret Service, he stated that he would “do anything I can to take out” Trump.

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