Top news: Bidding farewell in his last public address as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI conceded that his term had at times been marked by "choppy waters," the most direct reference offered by the pope in reference to the sex scandals that blossomed under his watch.
Addressing a packed crowd of more than 100,000 in St. Peter's Square, the scene in the Vatican was emotional. Several cardinals, in town ahead of the papal conclave and seated to the pope's right, could be seen dabbing at tears. In his address, Benedict compared his time in office to the voyage of St. Peter and the apostles across the Sea of Galilee, saying God had given him "many days of sun and light breezes." "But there were times when the waters were choppy and, as throughout the history of the church, it looked as if the Lord was sleeping," Benedict said. "But I have always known that the Lord was in that boat, that the boat was not mine or ours, but was his and he will not let it founder."
Benedict officially steps down Thursday and will retire to Castel Gandolfo, the traditional summer residency of the papacy, where he will retain the title "his holiness" but will renounce some of the papal garb, dressing a white cassock and giving up the red shoes of the papacy -- a symbol of the blood of the martyrs -- for brown ones. According to statements by Vatican officials, it is expected he will live a largely secluded life in prayer.
U.S. politics: The U.S. Senate voted to confirm former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense in a 58-41 vote, concluding a brutal confirmation process that has raised fears Hagel will arrive at the Pentagon lacking the political capital necessary to confront looming budget cuts.
- Iran and Western negotiators agreed to continue talks over the country's nuclear program, a development viewed as a modest success in restarting the diplomatic process.
- A string of ballistic missile attacks carried out by the Syrian government killed 141 people, including 71 children, in Aleppo last week, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch that raised the death toll much higher than previously reported.
- Egypt's main opposition coalition announced that it will boycott upcoming parliamentary elections, a move likely to ensure that Islamist parties will retain control of the legislature.
- A group of 17 Afghan police officers were drugged by their comrades and then shot to death in their sleep.
- The NATO coalition in Afghanistan announced that a widely cited figure showing that enemy attacks had dropped by 7 percent from 2011 to 2012 was false, the result of a clerical error, and that attacks had, in fact, remained steady.
- A group of prominent Chinese journalists, scholars, and rights activists released an open letter calling for major political reform days ahead of the party congress.
- A car bomb exploded at a checkpoint in northern Mali manned by Tuareg soldiers allied with the government, killing seven.
- Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court said they are willing to delay the trial of four Kenyans, including presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, who stand accused of fueling violence following their country's 2007 election.
- Rwandan President Paul Kagame said that he is not interested in running for a third term in office when his current mandate expires in 2017.
- Despite British requests to maintain secrecy in the case, a London coroner announced that he would hold on open and "fearless" inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent turned critic of the Putin government who was killed using a rare radioactive isotope.
- Italy's borrowing costs rose sharply in a Wednesday bond offering, the first test of the country's ability to raise funds in capital markets following an inconclusive election result.
- EU fisheries ministers agreed in an overnight meeting to end the controversial practice of fish dumping after representatives from sourthern European nations were able to secure some concessions.
- On the heels of passing a major education reform bill that dismantled union power, Mexican authorities arrested the powerful boss of the country's teachers union, Elba Esther Gordillo, alleging that she had embezzled $160 million in funds from her union.
- According to a new list released by Mexican authorities, over 26,000 people went missing during the administration of President Felipe Calderon, who launched an aggressive war against Mexico's drug cartels.
- The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge by journalists and human rights activists of a federal law broadening the government's ability to monitor international phone calls and emails.
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