Loving on a prayer
May 20, 2014
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Pope Francis recently received an unusual letter signed by 26 women, La Stampa's Vatican Insider reports. "Dear Pope Francis," the letter begins, "we are a group of women from all over Italy (and beyond) who are writing you to break the wall of silence and indifference we encounter every day." Why? "Each one of us is living, has lived, or wants to live in a loving relationship with a priest she is in love with."

As Pope Francis noted in a dialogue with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, published in 2010 as the book On Heaven and Earth, priestly celibacy was optional until 1100, and is still optional in the Eastern Orthodox churches. The women, who say they are just "a small sample" of women in love or in relationships with Catholic clerics, are asking for the pope to allow them to openly live with their priest-lovers (or prospective lovers), and even "bless these our loves, giving us the biggest joy that a father could want for his children: to see them happy."

But, perhaps more realistically, they are also trying to put a human face on the priest celibacy debate, expressing the "devastating suffering" of women like themselves who "experience with a priest the powerful experience of falling in love." The signatories put their first name, last initial or town where they live (which could be uncomfortable for that town's priests), and phone numbers. You never know — Pope Francis may call. (The Daily Beast's Barbie Latza Nadeau has a more extensive English-language recap of the letter.)

6:42 a.m. ET

In 1950, Earl Lloyd became the first African-American to play in the NBA, making his debut with the Washington Capitols before going on to play with the Syracuse Nationals and Detroit Pistons. He won a championship with the Nationals, then became one of the NBA's first black coaches. Lloyd died on Thursday at age 86.

Lloyd said that his first pro appearance on the court — in Rochester, New York, on Oct. 31, 1950 — was pretty low-key, Kenneth Shouler writes at ESPN. "I stepped onto the court and the world kept spinning," Lloyd said. "No one said a word — not the fans, players, anybody. Nothing was ever said about me being the first black. They acted as if I was a player, period." That same season, Charles Cooper and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton also made their NBA debuts.

Even if he was nonchalant about integrating the NBA, other players hold him up as a pioneer. Below, you can watch Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkely talk about what Lloyd meant to them, during a break in Thursday night's Oklahoma City-Phoenix game. —Peter Weber

mysteries of space
5:55 a.m. ET

The Dawn spacecraft is approaching the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are confounded by a photo Dawn sent back from 29,000 miles away.

NASA's Hubble telescope had photographed a light spot on the dwarf planet in 2004, but "Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin," principle investigator Chris Russell said in a statement. He speculated that the spots have a "volcanolike origin," but said higher-resolution photos are needed to make any firm conclusion.

For now, "this is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us," adds Andreas Natheues at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. Dawn is expected to enter orbit around Ceres on March 16 and spend 16 months orbiting what scientists has previously called an "embryonic planet," stunted by the massive gravity of Jupiter. Hopefully Dawn's sojourn around Ceres will solve the mystery of the twin "bright spots."

This is terrible
5:06 a.m. ET

On Thursday night, assailants attacked Avijit Roy, a U.S. blogger and writer, and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, with meat cleavers on a crowded sidewalk in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital. Roy died in the hospital, and Banna was seriously injured. Roy, born in Bangladesh but a U.S. citizen, started the website Mukto-mona, or "Free Mind" in Bengali, and his friends and family say he had received threats for his writings about science and against religious extremism.

"He was a free thinker," friend and fellow blogger Baki Billah told Independent TV. "He was a Hindu but he was not only a strong voice against Islamic fanatics but also equally against other religious fanatics." Islamic extremists have been blamed for previous, unsolved attacks against writers in majority-Muslim Bangladesh. Roy was back in his birth country for a few weeks for the launch of his latest book at a local book fair.

The Daily Showdown
4:23 a.m. ET

"According to a recent study," said Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj on Thursday night's show, "the insanely rich people are leaving behind the lowly, average, regular rich people." Usually when The Daily Show sends correspondents out to cover a story, they find someone willing to act as a foil. This time, everyone — Brookings fellow Richard Reeves, "patriotic millionaire" Morris Pearl, even the yacht vendor — looks at Minhaj as if he's unhinged when he tries to troll up concern about the growing wealth inequality gap in the top 1 percent. That leaves Minhaj as his own patsy, and he ends up with ketchup on his face to make it work. Watch below. —Peter Weber

Watch this
3:34 a.m. ET

Actor and singer Andrew Rannell (Girls, The Book of Mormon) is going to be on the series finale of Glee. But that's all he could say about it on Wednesday night's Tonight Show. And it's a relatively unimportant fact, except that it was the excuse Jimmy Fallon needed to break out the microphones and coax Rannell into singing a duet with him. They're really good, and Spandau Ballet's "True" was such a popular choice that you can catch Ice-T singing along with a big grin on his face. —Peter Weber

3:03 a.m. ET
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Islamic State is advancing toward Damascus, the Syrian capital, and seizing Assyrian Christian towns near the Turkish border, abducting at least 220 Christians and destroying irreplaceable works of art. But it is also facing setbacks, including an offensive by Kurdish fighters, new U.S.-led airstrikes, and — according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — a cash flow problem.

"They need money," Observatory head Rami Abdulrahman tells Reuters. "Ever since the airstrikes hit their oil facilities and the Turkish border has been harder to cross, they have increased taxes and looked for ways to make money." Things have gotten so tight, he added, that ISIS has started selling scrap metal from bombed factories and other industrial wreckage in eastern Syria.

ISIS has also reportedly run low on foreign hostages to offer for ransom. The group "gets a material amount of its funding from ransom payments," outgoing U.S. Treasury sanctions czar David Cohen told The Wall Street Journal earlier this month. "And it would be to all of our mutual benefit to cut off that source of funding."

last night on late night
2:10 a.m. ET

On Thursday night's Late Night, Seth Meyers broke out his wedding video. Guest and former Saturday Night Live colleague Will Forte had given a toast/roast at Meyers' wedding rehearsal dinner, in character as Hamilton Whiteman, one of Meyers' professed favorite Forte characters at SNL. The 30 seconds of the off-color speech is pretty funny — and here's hoping the remaining 5:30 that Meyers couldn't air on network TV somehow shows up on YouTube. —Peter Weber

when animals attack
1:53 a.m. ET

Residents in one Dutch town are living in fear after a hostile eagle owl has attacked dozens of people.

The owl has been terrorizing the Purmerend area, 12 miles north of Amsterdam, The Associated Press reports. It has been concentrating around the Prinsenstichting assisted-living complex for people with disabilities, and a spokeswoman said at least 20 people have been injured there, with some needing stitches. One victim, Niels Verkooijen, told a Dutch news program being attacked "was like having a brick laced with nails thrown at your head."

City officials are warning residents not to approach the angry owl, said to be between 24- and 30-inches-tall. Because eagle owls are a protected species, the town has applied for a permit to catch it, but in the meantime, people are asked to carry umbrellas with them during the evening, when the owl is most active. Eagle owls are not known for being so aggressive in the wild, causing officials to believe that it was once held in captivity.

1:30 a.m. ET

Researchers in Britain have found well-preserved fragments of wheat DNA in an ancient peat bog submerged off the Isle of Wight, suggesting that traders brought wheat to the area about 8,000 years ago.

Scientists believe that traders came to Britain and "encountered a less advanced hunter-gatherer society," the BBC reports. Vincent Gaffney, a professor at the University of Bradford, adds that "it now seems likely that the hunter-gather societies of Britain, far from being isolated, were part of extensive social networks that traded or exchanged exotic foodstuffs across much of Europe."

The DNA discovery was well-received by scientists, who say the fragments have given them a much clearer understanding of what happened as hunter-gatherers began growing crops. "The material remains left behind by the people that occupied Britain as it was finally becoming an island 8,000 years ago, show that these were sophisticated people with technologies thousands of years more advanced than previously recognized," says Garry Momber of the Maritime Archaeology Trust.

this is awful
12:55 a.m. ET

Veterinarians from around the world have come together to save Magnus, a lion cub who was born into captivity at a circus in Spain and horribly mistreated for the first few months of his life.

Magnus was separated from his mother when he was only days old, and purposely starved so he wouldn't grow and could appear in photos with visitors who paid 20 euros each, ABC Los Angeles reports. He was fed just yogurt and bread, and when he became extremely ill the circus owner took him to a vet and asked that he euthanize the cub. Spanish officials found out what happened and gave Magnus to an animal sanctuary, where it was discovered that his bones and muscles were stunted and his esophagus was so narrow he was unable to eat solid food.

This horrible story has a better ending: Once the four-month-old cub's plight was shared, vets from around the globe offered to help, and donations came pouring in for his treatment. Magnus underwent a necessary surgery, one of many he will need, and is now eating chicken cut into small pieces. His veterinarian said that unfortunately, the cub will be chronically ill for the rest of his life and will never be able to live on his on in the wild. Remember that the next time you go to the circus.

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