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Havana nights: the Pope and the role of fame

Faithful wait for the start of a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba, September 20, 2015 (Credit: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)Life may be short but the memory of a life well lived is not. Theodore Roosevelt observed that, "Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering." Actions coupled with wisdom and zeal to leave this place better than they found it spur some to great feats that lead to fame. Despite inevitable obstacles and resistance, these individuals are driven by something deeper than words can do justice.

On Tuesday, the pope ends his time in Cuba and begins his east coast swing of the United States. His High Holiness spent three days in Cuba, avoiding overt political talk on the communistic island, but nevertheless inserting subtle hints along the way. On Sunday, during a mass in Havana's Revolution Square, Pope Francis told upwards of 200,000 people to serve people and not ideas. On Tuesday, he encouraged Cubans to be like Mary, the mother of Charity. "We want to be a Church which goes forth to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation."

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North Korea's latest attempt to scare the world

Visitors looks at models of North Korea's Scud-B missile, center left, and other South Korean missiles on display at the Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, September 15, 2015 (Credit: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) North Korea confirmed Tuesday that it has restarted its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. The timing of the move is potentially troubling with the 70th anniversary of its communist Worker's Party coming up on October 10th. Many worry that they plan to celebrate by launching a rocket intended to carry a satellite into space. While every nation has the right to develop a peaceful space program, both U.S. and South Korean officials believe the rocket would also function as a test of North Korea's capability to launch a long-range missile, the kind that could eventually carry a nuclear payload.

The Yongbyon reactor was closed in 2007 as part of a disarmament-for-aid deal brokered through talks involving the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, and the two Koreas. However, North Korea threatened to restart the reactor in February of 2013. While some believe their latest efforts are an attempt to increase their bargaining position in the hopes of reducing the sanctions placed on their country by the United States and other foreign powers, others fear a more nefarious purpose.

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Islamic State claims Norwegian and Chinese hostages

Undated photos taken from the Islamic State group’s online magazine Dabiq that purport to show Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad, from Oslo, Norway, left, and a Chinese national, who the extremist group claims to be holding hostage. (Credit: Dabiq-ISIS online publication)In the latest issue of their online magazine Dabiq, ISIS revealed that it holds two more foreign nationals captive. The terrorist organization included a page-long advertisement for each hostage, showing pictures of them from several angles to help their loved ones and governments identify them. In addition to their pictures, the magazine also gives information on the captives' occupations, birthdays, and home addresses. The first prisoner is a Norwegian man from Oslo identified as Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad, and the second is a freelance consultant from Beijing named Fan Jinghui.

While the Chinese government has not responded publically to the ads, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed that one of the hostages was Norwegian, though she did not elaborate beyond that with regards to his identity. Solberg said that she and her government have been contacted by the terrorists regarding the Norwegian captive and that they are exploring all avenues to secure his freedom. However, she stated that they would not pay the ransom because "We cannot give in and won't give in to pressure from terrorists and criminals."

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Are Syrian refugees my problem? Is there a solution?

A Syrian family board a ferry traveling to Athens, at the port of Lesbos Island, Greece, an island of 100,000 residents that has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, September 7, 2015 (Credit: AP Photo/Santi Palacios)According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approximately 59.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced from their home country last year. Over 366,000 refugees have traversed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year alone. In the month of July, the number of immigrants who entered the European Union countries was around 100,000. Through one week in August, Greece has welcomed 21,000. However, all who have tried have not succeeded.

2,800 attempted the journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, but either died or disappeared along the way. Two weeks ago, Austrian authorities found the decomposing bodies of 71 migrants in a truck abandoned close to Vienna. And then there was the picture from last week that epitomized this problem. This picture depicted a corpse washed up on a Turkish shore. This toddler boy was a refugee, fleeing the civil war that is currently ravaging Syria.

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God of grace, pope of forgiveness, including abortion

Pope Francis I blesses a woman Papal audience, Vatican City, Rome, Italy, August 19, 2015 (Rex Features via AP Images)It is amazing, it has a sweet sound, and it has been known to make life not fair. What is it? Grace. We have been saved by it, chosen because of it, and amply provided with it. Writing on grace, Jerry Bridges found, "Our worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace."  A type of beauty, grace never demands attention but its presence compels it – which explains why the Pope is in the news yet again.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis announced he would allow all priests to formally forgive women who have had abortions during the upcoming Holy Year. In his latest move, he is granting Catholic priests temporary authority to "absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it." Differentiating from the Protestant perspective, which believes that only Christ can absolve of sin, Francis nonetheless is an example worthy of emulation for those who are recipients of grace.

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