VATICAN CITY: I attended today’s papal audience in St. Peter’s Square, standing just rows away from Pope Francis as more than 50,000 people—despite rain and a cold day in Rome—filled the plaza to hear his weekly message read (and translated in about eight languages). Despite the pope’s striking global influence, President Barack Obama, who meets the pontiff for the first time tomorrow, seems determined to keep the session focused on the narrow range of issues where the two may agree. But spin from the White House and the American press aside, the pope could surprise the president by bringing up Obamacare and the just-argued Hobby Lobby case, suggests Vatican expert George Weigel:
“Thus for all his genuine warmth and friendliness, Jorge Mario Bergoglio takes a pastor’s critical view of the culture of lifestyle libertinism embodied in the administration’s HHS mandate and its embrace of the most unregulated abortion license imaginable. And the pope who charged the Church throughout the world to be a ‘field hospital’ serving the walking wounded of post-modernity is not unaware that the Obama administration’s policies are gravely impeding the capacity of the Church in the United States—its school, hospitals, and social-services agencies—to be agents of the healing ministries to which Pope Francis has summoned Catholics.”
The pope met the mayor of Philadelphia after today’s audience, but he took more time with a young man in a wheelchair, as greeting the disabled is a regular part of the Wednesday event.
WORLD VISION:A new World Vision policy statement, allowing that the largest U.S.-based Christian humanitarian organization “will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman,” is drawing fire from leading pastors and other aid groups.
Samaritan’s Purse president Franklin Graham said he was “shocked” by the World Vision decision. He said the statement by World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns, calling the move an effort to bring unity within the church, was “offensive … as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church.”
A general statement from the Assemblies of God called it “a fundamental shift away from a normative biblical understanding of marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman.” It also urged its member churches and individuals to shift financial support away from World Vision.
Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung also denounced the action, saying, “World Vision has decided that to be a practicing homosexual and a practicing Christian is no contradiction in terms.”
SYRIA: Dozens of seasoned militant fighters, including some mid-level planners, have traveled to Syria from Pakistan in recent months in what U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials fear is an effort to lay the foundation for future strikes against Europe and the United States. The al-Qaeda operatives, in effect, are finding safe haven in Syria away from U.S. drones in the Af-Pak border area.
TERRORISM: A New York jury found Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, guilty of conspiring to kill Americans and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists in connection with 9/11 attacks. The verdict came despite claims by Ghaith’s defense that he faced deprivation and torture while in U.S. custody. It represents the first jury verdict in the United States against a terror suspect linked to 9/11.
KENYA: A hooded gunman stormed a church in the coastal city of Mombasa on Sunday, shooting at worshippers while two other gunmen assaulted them as they fled. At least six Christians were killed in the attack and 18 were injured before the attackers disappeared.
RUSSIA: Vladimir Putin won’t rest “until a pro-Russian government is restored in Kiev,” writes former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.