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Billboard supporting Trump’s immigration ban stirs controversy

Some residents believe that a controversial billboard on Interstate 40 in North Carolina by a religious group in support of President Donald Trump’s immigration and travel ban on Muslim-majority countries has gone too far.  

The sign in Catawba County refers to the 9/11 attack and those behind it.  

Residents of nearby Claremont and Catawba are talking about its message.  

"I think the numbers are powerful enough in themselves,” one supporter said. “So, if you look at it and think something is wrong about it, it makes you wonder about you."  

Oliver Reitzell opposes the billboard.  

"I believe in the Christian way, and that's to embrace everybody,” Reitzell said. “Kind of the hate message behind it, I'm not for that."  

>> Read more trending news

The North Carolina Pastors Network paid for the sign and claims to have support from 600 ministers across the state.  

The organization is headed by evangelist Dave Kistler, who doesn't believe that the billboard's message is one of hate.  

"I'm saying it now that this is not what this is about,” Kistler said. “There's certainly nothing hateful in our billboard. Some have interpreted it to be that and say that. It was not. It is the truth."  

But Paul Cummings, an associate pastor at the Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, believes that the billboard contradicts teachings from the Bible.  

"My opinion is that I think these people need the saving gospel of Jesus more than I need to be protected,” Cummings said. “I'm perfectly willing for people who are hostile to us to be in our country, because that's what loving your enemy is all about."  

Veteran Andrew Katocs, who served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn't see how the billboard and its message are helping.  

"That billboard, it sounds like somebody is trying to cause some issues that don't need to be worried about now," Katocs said.  

The religious group said it has no plans to take down the billboard.

Megachurch pastors Joel and Victoria Osteen criticized for throwing ‘Hook ‘Em’ hand sign

Thousands of students graduated this past weekend from the University of Texas at Austin, flooding social media with photos of proud new alumni and their families.

>> Read more trending news 

For most parents, documenting the occasion with a photo means throwing up the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign, too, usually without much fuss. But when your parents are the first couple of televangelism, a spirited hand gesture can take on a whole other meaning. 

>> Photos: Longhorns arriving for UT graduation ceremony May 20 

Joel Osteen and his wife, Victoria, draw thousands every week to their massive Lakewood Church in Houston, and millions tune in from across the globe to watch. The pair also head a massive multi-million dollar empire stemming from book deals and tours. Their son, Jonathan, recently graduated from UT, and he posed with each of his parents for a pretty common photo taken during commencement weekend: the graduate and his mom and dad both making the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign. 

Pope canonizes 2 children who claimed to see Virgin of Fatima

Pope Francis canonized a pair of shepherd siblings on Saturday, giving the Catholic Church two of its youngest saints. The siblings are believed to have seen the Madonna 100 years ago in a Portuguese town that is now a major pilgrimage site, Reuters reported.

>> Read more trending news

The pontiff, before a crowd estimated in the hundreds of thousands, proclaimed Francisco and Jacinta Marto, the newest of the Church's saints, in the town of Fatima.

The two children died at the ages of 10 and 9, within three years of the 1917 apparitions. They are the youngest saints of the Church who were not martyrs.

The Virgin of Fatima is venerated by Catholics around the world, a following underscored by the many national flags fluttering in the huge crowd, estimated at more than half a million people.

In his homily during an outdoor Mass, Francis prayed that the Madonna would protect the most vulnerable members of society, "especially the sick and the disabled, prisoners and the unemployed, the poor and the abandoned," Reuters reported.

The story of Fatima's shepherd children has captivated Catholics since their first reported vision on May 13, 1917.

The Church believes the Madonna gave three children — Francisco and Jacinta Marto and their older cousin Lucia Dos Santos — three messages, the so-called secrets of Fatima. Dos Santos became a nun and died in 2005 at the age of 97, and efforts are also under way to make her a saint.

The first two secrets were revealed soon and concerned a vision of hell, seen by believers as a prediction of the outbreak of World War II, a warning that Russia would "spread her errors" in the world, and a need for general conversion to God and prayer, Reuters reported.

The "third secret" intrigued the world for more than three-quarters of a century, inspiring books and cults convinced that it predicted the end of the world.

In 2000, the Vatican said it was a prediction of the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II on May 13, the same day of the first reported apparition in 1917.

John Paul believed the Madonna had diverted one of the bullets that hit him from his vital organs. He donated it to the sanctuary, where it is now embedded in the crown of the statue of the Madonna.

 

Mormon church pulls older boys from Boy Scouts programs

Be prepared for a change in Scouting.

The Mormon church announced Thursday that older teens in the United States and Canada will no longer take part in two Boy Scouts programs beginning in January, KUTV reported.

>> Read more trending news 

On its website, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it would discontinue its Varsity and Venturing Scouting programs for boys ages 14 to 18, beginning Jan. 1, 2018. Church officials said they would replace the Scouting program with a new activities program.

The announcement will affect as many as 185,000 older youths from the organization, said church officials, who told CBS News that the move was not triggered by the Boy Scouts' decision in 2015 to allow gay troop leaders.

But at least one leading Mormon scholar said that the Boy Scouts and the church have been differing on values in recent years and that the policy on gays was probably a contributing factor in the split, CBS News reported.

Matthew Bowman, a Mormon scholar and history professor at Henderson State University, said the split reflects the two organizations' diverging values.

"The church is wedded very much to traditional gender roles and they see the Boy Scouts of America increasingly move away from that," Bowman told CBS News. "That means that they have come to see it as less of a hospitable place.”

KUTV reported that the church did not believe boys between 14 and 18 are “being served well” by the Varsity or Venturing programs.

The Mormon church has been involved in scouting for more than a century.

Boy Scouts of America spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said the organization is saddened by the decision but understands the church's desire to customize a program, CBS News reported.

In a statement, the Boy Scouts of America said it “deeply appreciates” its relationship with the church.

“We recognize that not all programs are a perfect fit for all partners," the statement said.

About 280,000 Mormon boys ages 8 to 13 will remain in the Scouts while the church develops its program, church officials said. 

Jana Ockey has three boys who all got their Eagle Scout awards when they were 13 years old, KUTV reported. Two of them, Justin, 16, and John, 14 are now in the Varsity and Venturing program.

"I felt like there was a death. It was that strong for me," Ockey told KUTV. "I've been in the scouting program for so long and when I saw what the venturing program could do for the boys I thought it was amazing. The frustration was, not everybody could see that."

For those boys who still wish to work toward an Eagle Scout badge, the church told KUTV they will be “registered, supported and encouraged.”

Read Pope Francis’ TED talk; pontiff warns of danger of power, need for ‘tenderness’

Pope Francis gave a surprise TED talk on Wednesday, telling those listening that the future has a name, and it is “hope.”

The pontiff went on to say that while Christians should be optimistic, they should not ignore those who are suffering.

Here is the text of his TED talk:

Pope Francis: “Good evening – or, good morning, I am not sure what time it is there. Regardless of the hour, I am thrilled to be participating in your conference.

I very much like its title – "The Future You" – because, while looking at tomorrow, it invites us to open a dialogue today, to look at the future through a "you."

"The Future You:" the future is made of yous, it is made of encounters, because life flows through our relations with others. Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone's existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.

As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: "Why them and not me?"

I, myself, was born in a family of migrants; my father, my grandparents, like many other Italians, left for Argentina and met the fate of those who are left with nothing. I could have very well ended up among today's "discarded" people. And that's why I always ask myself, deep in my heart: "Why them and not me?"

First and foremost, I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent "I," separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone.

We don’t think about it often, but everything is connected, and we need to restore our connections to a healthy state. Even the harsh judgment I hold in my heart against my brother or my sister, the open wound that was never cured, the offense that was never forgiven, the rancor that is only going to hurt me, are all instances of a fight that I carry within me, a flare deep in my heart that needs to be extinguished before it goes up in flames, leaving only ashes behind.

Many of us, nowadays, seem to believe that a happy future is something impossible to achieve. While such concerns must be taken very seriously, they are not invincible. They can be overcome when we don't lock our door to the outside world.

Happiness can only be discovered as a gift of harmony between the whole and each single component. Even science – and you know it better than I do – points to an understanding of reality as a place where every element connects and interacts with everything else.

And this brings me to my second message. How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion.

How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us. How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.

Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the "culture of waste," which doesn't concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realizing it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people.

Solidarity is a term that many wish to erase from the dictionary. Solidarity, however, is not an automatic mechanism. It cannot be programmed or controlled. It is a free response born from the heart of each and every one. Yes, a free response! When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being?

In order to do good, we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. And I know that TED gathers many creative minds. Yes, love does require a creative, concrete and ingenious attitude. Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough. Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The "you" is always a real presence, a person to take care of.

There is a parable Jesus told to help us understand the difference between those who'd rather not be bothered and those who take care of the other. I am sure you have heard it before. It is the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

When Jesus was asked: "Who is my neighbor?" - namely, "Who should I take care of?" - he told this story, the story of a man who had been assaulted, robbed, beaten and abandoned along a dirt road. Upon seeing him, a priest and a Levite, two very influential people of the time, walked past him without stopping to help. After a while, a Samaritan, a very much despised ethnicity at the time, walked by. Seeing the injured man lying on the ground, he did not ignore him as if he weren't even there. Instead, he felt compassion for this man, which compelled him to act in a very concrete manner. He poured oil and wine on the wounds of the helpless man, brought him to a hostel and paid out of his pocket for him to be assisted.

The story of the Good Samaritan is the story of today’s humanity. People's paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves "respectable," of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road.

Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: "One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense."

We have so much to do, and we must do it together. But how can we do that with all the evil we breathe every day? Thank God, no system can nullify our desire to open up to the good, to compassion and to our capacity to react against evil, all of which stem from deep within our hearts.

Now you might tell me, "Sure, these are beautiful words, but I am not the Good Samaritan, nor Mother Teresa of Calcutta." On the contrary: we are precious, each and every one of us. Each and every one of us is irreplaceable in the eyes of God.

Through the darkness of today's conflicts, each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.

To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn't lock itself into darkness, that doesn't dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavor to all aspects of life. And it can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness.

A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another "you," and another "you," and it turns into an "us." And so, does hope begin when we have an "us?" No. Hope began with one "you." When there is an "us," there begins a revolution.

The third message I would like to share today is, indeed, about revolution: the revolution of tenderness.

And what is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.

Tenderness is the language of the young children, of those who need the other. A child’s love for mom and dad grows through their touch, their gaze, their voice, their tenderness. I like when I hear parents talk to their babies, adapting to the little child, sharing the same level of communication.

This is tenderness: being on the same level as the other. God himself descended into Jesus to be on our level. This is the same path the Good Samaritan took. This is the path that Jesus himself took. He lowered himself, he lived his entire human existence practicing the real, concrete language of love.

Yes, tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.

There is a saying in Argentina: "Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach." You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.

The future of humankind isn't exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a "you" and themselves as part of an "us."

We all need each other. And so, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us. 

Thank you.”

 

Russia's Supreme Court bans Jehovah's Witnesses

UPDATE: Russia's Supreme Court issued a ban Thursday on the Jehovah's Witnesses religious group, labeling them extremists.

The court also ordered the group’s property to be seized, according to The Associated Press.

Russia's Supreme Court heard a government request earlier this month to ban Jehovah's Witnesses from practicing in the country.

According to the BBC, Russia's justice ministry has already designated the Christian-based group as an extremist group.

According to a New York Times report, the religious group is viewed by the Russian government as deviating too far from traditional norms that President Vladimir Putin has promoted. Jehovah's Witnesses do not vote or otherwise participate in politics, do not serve in the military and recognize God as the only true leader.

>> Read more trending news 

There are approximately 175,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.

It's not the first time the religious group has faced opposition in the region. During Soviet rule, Jehovah's Witnesses were targeted as spies by the KGB.

Easter 2017: When is it; what is it; why isn't it on the same date every year?

“Hey, do you have any idea when Christmas is?” is not a question you usually hear in late November or early December.

Major holidays are stamped on our calendars, often with little symbols, in case you don't know, for instance, that a turkey means Thanksgiving. 

Easter, however, is different. The date of Easter, when Christians celebrate the risen Christ, is different every year. 

Many factors have contributed to keeping the date a guessing game, but the rolling calendar on Easter is due mainly to astronomy and a group of men who got together in the ancient city of Nicaea to come up with a system of deciding when to celebrate the holiest day in the Christian calendar.

Here is a look at the origins of the remembrance, the reason for the floating date and when Easter will be celebrated this year.

What is Easter?On Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter who became an itinerant preacher at the age of 30. For the next three years, he drew thousands of followers in the relatively small area where he preached. 

When Jewish leaders and Roman officials began to feel threatened by his growing popularity, he was arrested as he came into Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Passover. He stood trial, was found guilty by a crowd and was mocked, beaten and eventually crucified. Followers believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion.

The Old Testament prophecy of a messiah being persecuted, then executed, then resurrected – all for the sins of his followers -- is believed by many to have been fulfilled with Jesus’ death.

Where in the Bible is the story of Jesus’ execution?The story of Jesus’ death appears in all four of the Gospels of the New Testament. You’ll find them in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 18.

When is Easter this year?Easter is on April 16 in 2017.

Why is it on different dates every year?

The answer is not a simple one. In 325 CE,  the Council of Nicaea, a gathering of Christian bishops, decided that there should be a more organized and universal way to decide when Easter would be celebrated. The council decided that the remembrance would be held the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.

The date for the vernal equinox was based on the ecclesiastical approximation of March 21. If the full moon falls on a Sunday, Easter is delayed a week.

How early and how late can Easter be celebrated?Easter can come as early as March 22, and as late as April 25 in the Gregorian calendar.

What does the word Easter mean?It could be from the name of the fertility goddess Eostre. It could be from the Norse "eostur" or "eastur," meaning “the season of the growing sun,” or some combination of those terms and others from pagan festivals and ceremonies.

When was Easter first celebrated?It’s not known when the first remembrance of Jesus’ death took place, but there are records of ceremonies beginning in the 2nd century. The celebrations were held around the Jewish Passover each year, a date that was dependent on the vernal equinox.

What are Good Friday and Maundy Thursday?Good Friday commemorates the day on which Jesus was crucified. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus had with his disciples.

How did a bunny become a symbol?No one is really sure about how the Easter Bunny came into being, but, he/she likely is a combination of several ancient harvest festival symbols. History.com says the bunny could have come from the pagan festival of Eostre. Eostre is a goddess of fertility and, because of the rabbit’s reputation for, shall we say, productivity, the animal became the symbol for Eostre.

Historians believe it is likely that the festival with its bunny symbol made its way through Europe and gave birth to the Osterhase, or Oschter Haws – an egg-laying rabbit popular in German fiction. German immigrants brought with them to America the tradition of laying colored eggs as gifts in nests built by children during a spring festival. 

Eventually, the bunny started to bring candy and other gifts with the eggs on Easter morning as a sign of the celebration of new life.

Years after anti-semitic remarks, Mel Gibson continues donating to Jewish organization

Mel Gibson has worked to make up for his infamous anti-semitic rant while he was being arrested for a DUI in 2006 by quietly helping Holocaust survivors in the years since.

The actor, who said, “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” during the incident, has reportedly been working with the charity Survivor Mitzvah Project.

The Survivor Mitzvah Project works to “bring emergency aid to Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe who are in desperate need of food, medicine, heat and shelter,” according to the founder of the organization.

>> Read more trending news

“Mel Gibson is helping Holocaust survivors in eight countries; it’s remarkable. I have a great respect for people who turn their lives around, and I think that everyone makes mistakes in life, and I think the real proof of what kind of human being you are is what you do with that mistake,” Zane Buzby, founder of the organization told Extra. “He’s educated himself. He’s done philanthropic work now, and I think that actions speak very loudly … and his actions have helped a lot of people.”

An unnamed source close to the actor told People magazine that Gibson has been working with Survivor Mitzvah Project for a few years now.

Last year, Gibson reminisced on his “unfortunate” incident, saying, “I’ve never discriminated against anyone or done anything that sort of supports that reputation. And for one episode in the back of a police car on eight double tequilas to sort of dictate all the work, life’s work and beliefs and everything else that I have and maintain for my life is really unfair.”

“Mel wants to be remembered for his work,” the unnamed source told People magazine. “He has worked on his issues and has definitely shaped up.”

Pope may allow married men to become priests

In an interview this week, Pope Francis said he is open to the idea of married men being ordained as Roman Catholic priests, CNN reported.

>> Read more trending news

Speaking with the German newspaper Die Zeit on March 9, the pontiff said the lack of Catholic priests was an "enormous problem" for the Church, and indicated he would be open to a change in the rules governing eligibility for the priesthood.

"We need to consider if 'viri probati' could be a possibility," he told the magazine. "If so, we would need to determine what duties they could undertake, for example, in remote communities."

Viri probati is the Latin term for "tested men" or married men of outstanding faith and virtue.

The option of viri probati allows married men to be ordained as priests, but single men who are already priests would not be allowed to marry, Francis said.

"Voluntary celibacy is not a solution," Francis said.

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes is reportedly pressing to allow viri probati in the Amazon, where the church counts around one priest for every 10,000 Catholics, ABC News reported.

The Catholic Church already allows some married men to be ordained priests.

Protestant married priests who convert to Catholicism can continue to be married and be a Roman Catholic priest, providing they have their wives' permission, CNN reported.

And Eastern Catholic churches that are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church can also maintain their tradition of married priests. 

Filet-O-Fish sales surge at McDonald's during Lent

Every March, McDonald’s sees a surge in sales of its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.

According to a company spokesman, it’s primarily because of Lent.

Nearly 25 percent of the sandwiches sold during the year are sold during Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and runs for 40 days, ending just before Easter Sunday.

>> Read more trending stories  

The dish’s existence dates back to the 1960s, when Cincinnati franchise owner Lou Groen noticed a drop in sales on Fridays when his Roman Catholic customers were observing Lent. 

Groen convinced the food chain to launch a whitefish sandwich as an alternative menu item to its popular burgers.

>> Related: What is Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, and how do we celebrate? 

Since its inception, the wild-caught Alaska pollock fish sandwiches have become a McDonald’s staple.

Social media users are jokingly taking to Twitter to express their excitement for “Filet-O-Fish Season,” some celebrating the discounts that many McDonald's restaurants offer on the sandwich on Fridays during Lent. 

Take a look:

Commence Filet-O-Fish season. #Lent— Caitlin N. (@catealli_15) March 1, 2017

It's Ash Wednesday. Which means it's gonna be lent fridays and Filet O Fish are gonna be sold for $1.59 again pic.twitter.com/XXghnR6AQT— HvyMtlLvr (@Artenomics) March 1, 2017

The filet-o-fish is truly a staple in the Catholic community during Lent.— Ally (@allyportz11) February 27, 2017

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