Up to 2 million pilgrims are expected to travel to Rome this week to mark the passing of Pope John Paul II. The Pope died Saturday night at the age of 84. The College of Cardinals decided today that the funeral of the Pope will be held at the Vatican on Friday. He will then be buried in the crypt beneath St Peter’s Basilica. The pope is now lying in state in the Basilica.
Politically, Pope John Paul II has been widely credited for helping to bring about the fall of communism by inspiring workers in his native Poland to rise up against the Soviet-controlled regime. His message to the Polish people was simple: “Be not afraid.” At the same time he was seen as a friend of Cuba. On Saturday Fidel Castro sent his condolences to the Vatican and favorably recalled the Pope’s 1998 visit during which the Pope condemned the US blockade of the island. The Cuban government described the Pope as “someone who cared for the poor, someone who fought neo-liberalism and struggled for peace,” However, the Pope was also widely criticized in Latin America for rejecting priests who advocated liberation theology as a means to uplift the poor.
By using modern technology, the Pope reached out to the world in a manner never before seen for a leader of the Catholic Church. He visited a record 120 nations and was seen in person by millions. By church standards his term was extraordinary. He was the first non-Italian pope in over 400 years. He served the third-longest term in papal history. He also reached out to the Jewish and Muslim faiths like no other Pope. He apologized for the church’s anti-Semitic past and became the first Pope to enter a mosque. And his views will be long felt inside the church. He has appointed all but three of the Cardinals who will soon be meeting in private to pick his successor.
In other news, the Iraqi Parliament has taken the first step to forming a new government. After two months of delays, lawmakers approved the Sunni leader Hajim al-Hassani as speaker of the Parliament. Next the lawmakers will pick a prime minister and president. Prior to the meeting of Parliament Baghdad was put in a state of near lockdown in order to prevent attacks. Major bridges in and out of Baghdad were closed and restrictions were placed on driving inside the city.
Meanwhile 44 U.S. troops were injured after Iraqi militants staged a surprise attack on the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison. First a car bomb exploded outside the jail. That was followed by another bomb, then gunfire then a grenade attack. Over three dozen Iraqi militants were involved in the attack.
The head of Blackwater Security is coming under criticism after it was revealed that he openly admitted it is “fun to shoot some people.” Blackwater is one of the largest private security firms in Iraq. The Observer newspaper of London obtained a company newsletter that quotes Blackwater president, Gary Jackson, as also saying terrorists 'need to get creamed, and it's fun — meaning satisfying — to do the shooting of such folk.’
In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party has claimed victory in last week’s election. According to results released by the Zimbabwe Election Commission, Mugabe’s party secured enough seats to gain a 2/3 majority in the nation’s parliament. The opposition–as well as the U.S. and British governments — have refused to recognize the outcome claiming the vote was rigged. However neighboring South Africa said the outcome reflected “the free will of the people.”
In Arizona, a group calling itself the Minuteman Project has begun stationing volunteers along the Mexican border to track down immigrants. The Mexican government has described the volunteers as vigilantes. The group claims to have recruited about 1000 people including 30 pilots with aircraft. The project has been met by protests. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission recently cited the Minuteman Project as a sign that anti-immigrant extremism is rising in the United States Meanwhile the American Civil Liberties Union has sent observers to keep tabs on the Minutemen volunteers to ensure they don’t take the law into their own hands. On Sunday the Minuteman Project claimed to have helped the official Border Patrol arrest 18 immigrants.
Meanwhile in New Mexico, a 32-year-old man remains hospitalized in critical condition after being dragged from a truck on Easter Sunday. The Mexican-born man, Fausto Arellano, suffered burn-like abrasions over half his body after he was bound by the ankles and dragged from a truck 4,000 feet through the streets of Gallup New Mexico. Police arrested one suspect on Friday and charged him with kidnapping, aggravated battery and assault with intent to commit a violent felony. Police have not yet described the incident as a hate crime.
In business news, the stock value of stun gun manufacturer Taser has dropped to its lowest value in a year. On Friday the company’s stock plummeted 13 percent as Amnesty International announced in a new report that the so-called non-lethal weapon resulted in 103 deaths in the U.S. and Canada over the past five years. Meanwhile on Sunday, the nation’s largest organization of police chiefs recommended police agencies begin closely monitoring their use of Taser guns because of safety concerns.
After six years on the run, wanted animal rights activist Peter Young has been arrested. Federal officials have accused the 27-year-old of freeing some 8,000 mink from fur farms in Wisconsin, South Dakota and Iowa. He has been charged with engaging in animal enterprise terrorism and unlawfully interfering with interstate commerce. Young has been a federal fugitive for six years. He faces up to 82 years in prison.
In Montana, state lawmakers have overwhelmingly passed a resolution criticizing the Patriot Act. The sponsor of the bill described the resolution as the nation’s most strongly worded criticism of the law to date. The resolution encourages law enforcement agencies in Montana not to participate in investigations authorized under the Patriot Act that violate the constitutional rights of state residents.
Meanwhile the Bush administration revealed on Friday that it requested and won approval to carry out a record number of special warrants last year for secret wiretaps and searches inside the country. The number of secret search requests have increased by 75 percent since President Bush took office. The warrants have allowed the FBI to break into homes, offices, hotel rooms and automobiles and to eavesdrop on telephone conversations. Agents also have pried into safe deposit boxes, watched from afar with video cameras and binoculars and intercepted e-mails.
Japanese American civil rights pioneer Fred Korematsu has died at the age of 86. During World War II Korematsu was jailed after he refused orders to be sent to an internment camp set up for U.S residents of Japanese ancestry. After the attack at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government ordered 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes and be placed in the camps. His attorney compared him to Rosa Parks. Korematsu challenged his arrest and the case eventually went to the Supreme Court. The court upheld the establishment of the internment camps. Decades later a federal court decided to vacate Korematsu’s conviction after it was uncovered that the federal government had lied to the high court about the threat posed by Japanese Americans. In 1998 President Clinton awarded Korematsu a presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Clinton said, “In the long history of our country’s constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls — Plessy, Brown, Parks. To that distinguished list today we add the name of Fred Korematsu.”
And 37 years ago today–April 4th 1968 — Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old. He was in Memphis to organize a march of sanitation workers protesting against low wages and poor working conditions. We’ll hear the words of Dr. King later in the show.