China abandons one-child policy!

China has scrapped its notorious one-child policy, allowing all Chinese couples to have two children for the first time in more than three decades, official media reported on Thursday.

“China abandons one-child policy,” Xinhua, China’s official news agency, announced on Twitter.

For months there has been speculation that Beijing was preparing to abandon the highly controversial family planning rule, which was introduced in 1980 amid fears of a calamitous population explosion.

China’s Communist rulers credit their policy with preventing 400 million births but the draconian regulation has also been blamed for millions of forced abortions.

The UN estimates that by 2050 China will have nearly 440 million over-60s.

News that the one-child policy had been scrapped comes three months after one Chinese newspaper predicted the policy would be phased out by the end of this year.

At the time those reports were denied by the Chinese government.


Christians mark Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday

Good Friday Wallpaper ECB

Hundreds of Christians streamed through the cobblestone alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, hoisting wooden crosses and chanting prayers to mark the crucifixion of Jesus.

Throngs of pilgrims walked a traditional Good Friday procession that retraces Jesus’ steps along the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the “Way of Suffering.” They followed his 14 stations, saying a prayer at each and ending at the ancient Holy Sepulcher church.

Along the route, Franciscan friars in brown robes chanted prayers in Latin and explained the different stations to crowds through a megaphone. One man dressed as Jesus wearing a crown of thorns was flanked by men posing as Roman soldiers and had fake blood dripping down his chest as he lugged a giant cross down the street.

Orthodox Christians hold a wooden cross as they take part in the Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's old city on April 13, 2012 ahead of Orthodox Easter. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ

Good Friday events kicked off with a mass earlier in the morning at the cavernous Holy Sepulcher, which was built on the place where tradition holds Jesus was crucified, briefly entombed and resurrected. Clergy dressed in colorful robes entered through the church’s large wooden doors as worshippers prayed in the church courtyard.

Later Friday, a mass was due in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, built atop the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. Christians believe Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday.

Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations that observe the new, Gregorian calendar, mark Easter week this week. Orthodox Christians, who follow the old, Julian calendar, will mark Good Friday in May.

Less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories is Christian, mostly split between Catholicism and Orthodox streams of Christianity. Christians in the West Bank wanting to attend services in Jerusalem must obtain permission from Israeli authorities.

Israel’s Tourism Ministry said it expects some 150,000 visitors in Israel during Easter week and the Jewish festival of Passover, which coincide this year.

Pope Benedict XVI officially ended his papacy, becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to step down!


CASTEL GANDOLFO, ITALY—Pope Benedict XVI ended his papacy, becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to step down. From now on, he will be known as Benedict XVI, pope emeritus.

The landmark resignation took effect at 8 pm on Thursday, three hours after the former pope had left Vatican City and flown to Castel Gandolfo, a summer residence on the outskirts of Rome. Over the next few days, cardinals will gather at the Vatican to plan a conclave that will elect his successor.


The pontiff’s retirement thrusts the church into uncharted waters, as the next pope will lead Roman Catholicism with his predecessor just a stone’s throw away. Pope Benedict, who is a prolific writer and respected theologian, has said he doesn’t expect to withdrawal completely from public life.

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Earlier Thursday, in Rome, the pope pledged obedience to his future successor. Meeting with cardinals for the last time inside the Apostolic Palace, Pope Benedict said he would remain with them “in prayer” after he steps down this evening.

“Among you, the College of Cardinals, is the future pope to whom I pledge today unconditional obedience and reverence,” the pope told the cardinals.


In his last hours as pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a crowd of faithful from the balcony of his summer palace, saying that he would soon no longer be leader of the Catholic Church, rather “a pilgrim who begins the last stop of his pilgrimage.”


Greeted by a crowd of people chanting “Benedetto, Benedetto” and waving flags, the pope thanked his supporters and said that he would continue to “work for the good of the Church.”

Pope Benedict XVI's Final Day


He will return to Vatican City once renovations are complete on his future residence: a former convent inside the Vatican’s medieval walls.


“We serve the Church and all of humanity. This is our joy. No one can take that away from us,” the pope told cardinals. The so-called princes of the church then lined up to individually bid him farewell.


After his official resignation, the ring that bears the seal of his authority will be broken. Earlier Thursday the Vatican post office, which serves the world’s smallest state, began stamping letters with a new mark: Benedictus PP. XVI Renuntiat Ministerio Petrino, indicating the pope had renounced the ministry.

Pope Benedict XVI to Resign


Lebanese of all faiths hope Pope visit heralds peace.

Lebanese from various religious backgrounds are eagerly awaiting Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to their country and hope that the trip could help bring peace to the nation.

“The pope can try to ease any religion’s collective tension,” said Sawsan Darwaza, a theater and film director who said she was very supportive of the visit even though she is not Christian.

“It’s very thoughtful and important that he chose Lebanon,” Darwaza added while walking in Gemmayzeh.

“The pope can say something to cause the people of the Middle East to be tolerant.”

Vatican officials have said the pope decided to proceed with his visit to Lebanon, the first by a pontiff in 15 years, despite the conflict raging in Syria. They say his main message will be one of religious coexistence between Christians and Muslims.

The pontiff will be in the country for three days and will visit a number of Christian sites and villages. He will also hold meetings with prominent Muslim, Christian and political leaders.

The last papal visit to Lebanon was in 1997, when Pope John Paul II came to the country.

A number of people said the pope, as a global figurehead, would bring hope for peace and reconciliation between disparate groups in the country.

In addition to Christian political groups, who have heralded the pope’s visit as a seminal moment for their community, Hezbollah has come out strongly supportive of the visit as an opportunity to renew dialogue and strengthen Lebanon’s pluralism.

Other religious leaders, including Salafists, have either endorsed the trip or expressed tolerance of it.

“All the region’s people respect the pope – it’s not about religion,” said 20-year-old Alaa Barakat. “He is not only a religious man.”

Others spoke about the significance of the leader of the Catholic Church taking the time to visit Lebanon, a relatively small country.

“Despite everything happening in Lebanon at the moment, the pope’s visit is like a puff of oxygen. We hope this visit makes people remember that this is a civilized country that important figures can visit,” said Tanya, who was walking down the street in Hamra. “It’s not about what the pope does; it’s about how the Lebanese people respond. Hopefully, he’ll be safe here.”

Many said they were apprehensive that the pope’s visit was taking place during a tumultuous political time and amid heightened religious tensions fueled by the conflict in Syria.

The killings in Libya and protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the region over an anti-Islam movie were a cause of concern for some, who worried a visit by pope to the Middle East could exacerbate religious tensions.

Security will be bolstered around the country during his visit, particularly along the pope’s traveling route.

Meanwhile, others saw the pontiff’s visit as an opportunity for unity.

Christians from around the region are expected to visit Lebanon to see the pope during his visit.

“I’m Jordanian, and I have many Christian friends there. Most of them are coming to Lebanon to see the pope,” said Rima. “It will make people want to come to Lebanon. I’d like to be present as well. I don’t know about others, but I wouldn’t miss it. He should be safe here.”

Balsan Hakkani, a store manager in Downtown Beirut, agreed. “I think it’s [the visit] very good and it’s coming in a very critical situation.”

Tomorrow is the third “Friday the 13th” of 2012.

They say bad luck comes in threes – so if you are superstitious, watch out for black cats and footpath cracks because tomorrow is the third Friday the 13th of 2012.

Psychology academic Dr Krissy Wilson, an expert on superstitions from Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, believes that tomorrow may be particularly unlucky for some.

“Friday the 13th usually doesn’t occur very often, about twice a year but this year we have already had two and tomorrow will be out third,” Dr Wilson said.

Scientifically, there’s no evidence that a Friday falling on the 13th day fo the month is any unluckier – but there are more recorded road accidents on Friday the 13ths purely due to how people view the day, Dr Wilson said.

“People believe that it is actually unlucky so they wait for something bad to happen … They drive anxiously and have accidents,” she said.

Friday the 13th has made people feel uneasy for as long as anyone can remember.

“We are not entirely sure how the superstition started, you have two issues both the number thirteen and Friday are seen to be unlucky,” Dr Wilson explained.

The main theory behind the Friday the 13th phenomenon is that it is heavily based in Christian mythology,

“The number 13 is seen to be unlucky because there were thirteen people at the last supper … and Friday because Jesus was crucified on a Friday,” Dr Wilson said.

“However the Romans also didn’t like Friday, and all throughout the Middle Ages Friday was deemed to be a bad omen.”

Dr Mason said the stigma associated with the day was deeply ingrained into our culture.

“When a superstition is passed down from generation to generation and from culture to culture it is hard to stand up against it and say that it isn’t true,”

And she said that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I am a rationalist, I have done a PHD, but I still have a lucky number that follows me around … superstitions help us to make sense of the world.”

Dr Mason also offers some invaluable advice for those who are feeling particularly anxious about today.

“For those people who are genuinely worried about the day the best thing to do is to wake up thinking that the day will be an incredibly lucky one rather than unlucky … otherwise it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you think that something bad will happen the more you think about it the more likely it is to eventuate.”