Pope Francis on a Mission

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Handel's Messiah by Halleluja Chorus

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When Will the West Wake Up?

It is vengeance in Gaza, Syria and Iraq. Turkey is waiting to reclaim its power as the Empire and Qatar continues to fund extremist Islamists.The Islamic "Caliphate" claims it will advance all the way to the West, occupy Rome, and will surpass Al-Qadea in its hatred for the Western Christian values.

But the shock came today when the Pentagon admitted that the U.S. has attempted to rescue an American journalist caught by ISIS since early Summer but who was killed by ISIS in revenge for the recent air strikes the Americans launched in Iraq to help free lands and people of several religions from ISIS attacks.  The American President Barack Obama spoke too. CNN reported the news:
http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/20/world/meast/isis-james-foley/index.html?hpt=hp_t1
See also the challenge of ISIS to President Obama here:
http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/The-Islamic-State-sends-a-bloody-ransom-to-President-Obama-371572

But there is more - much more...It appears also some European nations have paid many millions of dollars as ransom for their citizens caught in Syria and other places by Islamists. A real story is reported in the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/30/world/africa/ransoming-citizens-europe-becomes-al-qaedas-patron.html?_r=0
And here:
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/07/29/bankrolling-terror-european-countries-reportedly-paying-millions-in-ransoms-to/

Most were reportedly liberated and sent safely to their European countries. But all those thousands of innocent citizens of the Middle East countries and Africa that lost their lives in massacres in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, Libya, Sahara and the rest in Africa did not matter! The millions there that lost their homes and belongings did not matter! Human rights seem to be enforced only when it suits the political leaders to take action.

For over three years, Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. has been warning the West that it lost its soul, but did anyone listen? Read here his address to the Americans in the Capitol in Washington this past June.

And the American well-known Fr. Robert Barron spoke here on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

And since the formation of the Constitution of the European Union in the 1990s, the Church tirelessly sought its leaders to recognize the Christian contribution to the roots of Western civilization, but her claims fell on deaf ears.

In my opinion, no one of moderate people in any religion is inherently against the West, but it looks that there are political goals that sometimes blind its leaders. Atheism is pervasive. Materialism is undermining the Gospel message to care for the needy and to give priority to the poor. The Western leaders seem to be looking for selfish gains at the expense of poor countries.Many so-called Christians in the political leadership of the Western nations do not mind to sell out their Christian brothers in the Middle East to terrorists. Leaders of the West, whether Church leaders or political leaders may have to look again at the thrust of civilization, adapt and collaborate with people of good will, and save those who are in need in the Middle East, Africa, and Ukraine.

And now we ask what is democracy? Is it democratic to support the so-called Arab Spring that got the Muslim Brotherhood to govern or at least contest government in countries of the Arab world? Many Christians and moderate Muslims paid their lives when they opposed this organization of Islamic terror. When will the West ban the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist network?

When will the West wake up? When will Christians in the West wake up?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Historic Reality of the Church and Its Impact on the Humanization of Man

To write a history of Christianity is probably one of the hardest tasks. However, given the daily attacks on the Catholic Church in the media, a bit of historical overview may be a starting point for further inquiry. There is no limit to the books and articles, whether in print or online, written by historians and scholars on the history of the Church. Here I add more information from other reputed sources too.

In his seminal book "The Historic Reality of Christian Culture" the historian Christopher Dawson, who was Chauncey Stillman Chair of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University (1958-1962) and Fellow of the British Academy until his death in 1970, divides Christian history into "Six Ages" each lasting for 3 or 4 centuries and each starts and ends with a crisis. He explains that the first phase of each age is a period of intense activity when faced with a new historical situation, followed by a second phase of achievement when the Church seems to have conquered the world and is able to found new forms of thought and art, followed by a third phase of retreat when attacked by enemies from within or without.

The First Age started with Pentecost and the Church, Jewish followers of  Jesus Christ, was immediately beginning a revolution by extending its preaching beyond Judea to the pagan world in the metropolitan centers of the Roman civilization from Antioch to Alexandria and to Rome itself. This was based on the words of the risen Christ to the Apostles to "make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28: 19).

The fact that early Christians referred to Jesus Christ as Lord or Master is found in extra-Biblical sources both Roman and Jewish sources of the first and second centuries. The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 AD) verified the Biblical account of the execution of Jesus Christ at the hands of Pontius Pilate (Annals XV, 44). Pliny the Younger (61-115 AD), a Pagan Roman Senator and writer observes in his letter to the Emperor Trajan that Christians in their assemblies chanted a hymn to Christ as God. (Ep., X, 97, 98).  The Roman historian and Annalist Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (69-130 AD) recorded the expulsion of Jewish Christians from Rome (Life of Claudius 25. 4). The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus refers to Christ in his Antiquitates iudaicae (XVIII, 63-64) towards the end of the first century.

But what made the very early Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ?

Christians believed Jesus was truly the Son of God since the beginning, long before the Emperor Constantine ruled the Roman Empire in the 4th century. Here is some evidence: 

- Since the Jewish authorities condemned any Jew who followed Jesus in his trial, it is hard to believe that the Apostles and other disciples in the Christian movement would suddenly be transformed from fearful men after the death of Jesus Christ on the cross outside  Jerusalem into courageous men who preached the gospel in the Temple.Yet, they did (without recourse to any swords). Stephen was stoned to death for his witness but this did not stop the early Christians from spreading what they thought were good news of salvation in the name of Jesus Christ. The explanation given in the New Testament is the witness of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ after suffering his death. According to Biblical scholar Raymond Brown, tradition contains the Biblical witness - the Gospels were written only after a period of oral transmission of  teachings by Jesus Christ to his disciples which they only understood after his Resurrection, followed by the preaching of the Apostles and other disciples in Judea and the rest of nations, which was followed by committing it to writing when the Christian community realized that most of the Apostles had already died around the year 70. In an interview by U.S. News and World Report in 2006, Jaroslav Pelikan, the renowned scholar of Christian history, said "Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living". He had written his five-volume "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine" (1971-1989).
- The 4 Gospels present and reflect the belief of the very early Christian communities that Jesus was divine. By the 2nd century, the 4 canonical Gospels were already in place. According to Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D., Biblical scholarship has established that 4 criteria were required for any book to be part of the Biblical Canon:

  1. Apostolic Origin - attributed to and/or based on the preaching/teaching of the first-generation apostles (or their closest companions).
  2. Universal Acceptance - acknowledged by all major Christian communities in the Mediterranean world (from the second century to the fourth century).
  3. Liturgical Use - read publicly along with the OT when early Christians gathered for the Lord's Supper (their weekly worship services).
  4. Consistent Message - containing theological ideas compatible with other accepted Christian writings (incl. the divinity and humanity of Jesus).
- The Gospels point to Jesus’ power over evil forces (miracles are called ‘Dynamis’ or power in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke; and called ‘Signs‘ in John). 
- Through his power, Jesus ushered the kingdom of God and expelled the Devil in a way that suggests his divine authority. In his famous sermon, he does not speak on the authority of earlier Rabbis but on his own authority “But I say to you..” (Cf. Matt 5).
- He “clearly presents himself as changing the governance of the world and of human lives” (Cf. Raymond Brown; “An introduction to New Testament Christology”)
- Jesus forgives sins – reserved to God alone. He changes the names of his disciples - reserved to God alone in Jewish tradition (Cf. Cepha to Peter). And he alone is the Judge at the end of times of all people. - At his baptism and transfiguration, the Father testifies to his divinity (Matt 3:17, 17:5).
- In the oldest accounts, Jesus takes upon himself the divine name “I AM” (Mark 6:50; compare with John 8:58) which is the way God revealed himself to Moses, the name reserved to God alone. He also refers to himself as “the Son of Man” which does not refer to his humanity but to his divinity as revealed in Daniel in the Old Testament: “In my vision at night I looked and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
- Peter confesses the divine sonship of Jesus (Matt 17:17), and Thomas exclaims “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)- The Jews understood Jesus’ claim that he considered himself divine and wanted to stone him since he made himself “equal to God” (John 10: 33)
- Modern historical scholarship shows that by the year 35 AD there were already hymns and confessions of faith in the Church praising Christ as God and quoted in Paul’s letters which talk about Jesus being “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1, 15-20) and in the very nature of God “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Ph 2:6-7)
- Current exegesis has established that Jesus called God his Father “Abba” in a unique way unknown in Jewish tradition. While Jewish tradition avoided calling God by his personal name, Jesus refers to God by that intimate relationship thus changing the terms of relating to God in a significant way (Cf. J. Jeremias, “Abba”, 1966; J. Meier, “Jesus”, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1990).
- As Christians started to form their distinctive communities and believed Jesus was God, the Jewish Rabbis in their Council of Jamnia condemned Christians decisively after the destruction of the Temple (70 AD).
- The early Church Fathers, well before the time of Constantine, are quoted decisively in support of the divinity of Christ: Ignatius of Antioch (1st century-107), Clement of Alexandria (105-211), Irenaeus of Lyons (c.140- 200), Justin Martyr (c.100-165), Origen (185-252). 
In his "Introduction to Christianity" Joseph Ratzinger bases the evidence of the Resurrection of Christ on the power of love with which Jesus of Nazareth defeats death and mortality in his selfless love of the Father on the cross (humanly speaking: Being in the Other who still stands when I have fallen apart).

In the first, second and third centuries AD Christians became involved in a life-and-death struggle with the Roman empire's pagan culture. They were required to sacrifice to the pagan idols and if they refused they often had to be thrown to hungry lions for the crowds to enjoy them being eaten alive by wild animals in the Colosseum theaters. Ignatius, martyr and the third Bishop of Antioch, experienced this end around 107 AD under order by Trajan, the Roman emperor (98-117 AD), because he was Christian ...Nero had crucified thousands of Christians accusing them of burning Rome in 64 AD. He is remembered in Apocalypse (attributed to John the Apostle) as the "Beast" who will come back and his mark is 666, a transliteration of Nero's name in Greek (Revelation 13:18). According to Dawson, the main achievement of this first age of the Church was "the successful domination of the urban Roman-Hellenistic culture." In spite of intermittent persecutions, the Church, nevertheless, became the greatest creative force in the second and third centuries culture. This is the 2nd phase, the age of Clement and Origen in the East and Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian in the West. In the 20th century, the Biblical work of Origen would be retrieved, among others, in the movement called "ressourcement" and initiated by Henri de Lubac and his disciples. Earlier, the theological schools of Alexandria and Antioch had been established. On theologian of the 2nd and third centuries, Jaroslav Pelikan wrote that they could take the Apocalypse of John as their model and repudiate pagan thought just as they repudiated the imperial cult; or they could seek out, within classicism, analogies to the continuity-discontinuity which all of them found in Judaism. According to him, the most comprehensive of apologetic treatises was "Against Celsus" by Origen (Cf.  Pelikan: "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Vol. 1 - The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition" P. 27). From a sociological perspective Christianity proved to be not a mere sectarian cult but a real society with a high sense of citizenship.The third phase, that of retreat, took place in the reign of Diocletian (emperor from 284 to 305 AD). Of all the ten persecutions of the early Church, the most terrible was to occur under him,  He had celebrated his triumph over the Persians and was good to Christians. But his subordinate Galerius instigated him to wipe out Christianity.  With 3 edicts Diocletian sought to first destroy churches and burn scriptures, then imprisoned bishops, priests and deacons, and, in the third, he tortured all who still confessed to be Christians (Eusebius, loc. cit., xi, xii; Lactant., "Div.Instit.", V, xi). However, the Church survived.

The Second Age, known as the Age of the Fathers, is marked by Constantine's conversion to Christianity, the first phase with an event of immeasurable consequences for Christianity, followed by his founding of Constantinople "The New Rome" which inaugurated a political alliance between the Byzantine Church and the Byzantine emperor that lasted for nearly 1000 years, although it occasionally subjugated the interests of the Church to the will of the emperor. From a cultural perspective, the Hellenistic culture appeared in the poetry and hymns of the liturgy represented by St. Ephraim the Syriac and St. Romanos the Melodist, the splendid architectural building of the cathedral Hagia Sophia and many others including the Church of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem that St. Helen, Constantine's mother, built and Justinian completed upon the Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus Christ. The Church incorporated the good in pagan culture into a Christian civilization. According to Dawson, the period of creative achievement of this age, covers the works of the Fathers from St. Athanasius who, against Arius and his Arians followers, courageously defended the teaching of the Church in the divinity of Jesus Christ as eternally begotten of the Father and equal to the Father at the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD to St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome and St. John Chrysostom and especially the rise of Christian monasticism which represents the most distinctive contribution of the Oriental in tension with the Hellenic element in Christianity. As rapidly as the monastic movement spread from Persia and Mesopotamia to Rome, Gaul and the British Isles, it retained its Egyptian imprint from the solitary ascetic St. Anthony to the cenobitical community of St. Pachomius.

The second phase is characterized by the flourishing of Christian art and philosophical reflections as well as pastoral care expounded by such leaders as the Cappadocians St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Basil, for example, more than a preacher was a manager who built the first hospital for the sick within a whole town in Cappadocia where the needy were fed and the outcast protected. In the West, St. Pope Leo the Great, a diplomat, was able to convince Attila the Hun not to sack Italy, and, on the doctrinal side, developed the ancient doctrine of the primacy of the Successor of St. Peter over all Christendom. While St. Chrysostom, a popular preacher and Archbishop, was exiled from his See of Constantinople by Empress Eudoxia in 404 AD because he dared to denounce her extravagant rule, St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, was able nevertheless to get Theodosius the Emperor to repent publicly for his crime of slaughtering the Thessalonians on account of their earlier revolt. Ambrose, like Athanasius, Basil, and Augustine continued to defend the Nicene Creed against the Arians. Yet, Christian leaders failed to maintain unity. Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, understood (or rather misunderstood) the true nature of the incarnation of the Word. He preached that in Christ there were not only two natures but also two persons: one from God (the Word) and one created like men who was born of the Virgin Mary. If this is followed, then the Virgin Mary should not be called Theotokos (Mother/bearer of God). For this understanding, Nestorius was excommunicated at the Council of Ephesus under the leadership of St. Cyril in 431 AD, after securing the support of Rome. Nestorius was exiled and his followers escaped to Persia, the enemy of the Byzantine Christians. It was an opportunity to preach Christ to pagans. They went as far as India. But their numbers dwindled over time. Meanwhile, Cyril's successor, Dioscorus, proud of the faith of his predecessor, supported Eutyches who, following Cyril, taught that in Christ there is one nature but in this nature the Godhead swallowed the humanity of Christ. Dioscorus presided over a council in Ephesus (449 AD, called "Robber Council" and not recognized by neither the Catholic Church nor the Byzantine Orthodox) in which Eutyches was honoured,and Flavianus, Patriarch of Constantinople, was humiliated and so violently attacked that he died. When in 451 AD, the Council of Chalcedon was summoned, the Letter of Pope Leo I was read declaring that in Christ there are two natures - a human nature and a divine nature -  fully united in the person of Christ, and was approved by the fathers of the Council. Dioscorus was at once excommunicated, not because of his faith but because he dared to excommunicate Pope Leo earlier. Patriarch Dioscorus was exiled on orders of the emperor Justinian. In his exile he maintained that he excommunicated the teachings of Eutyches, but no one listened. Almost the entire population of Egypt supported Dioscorus and stayed loyal to him and his successors. Some bishops in Antioch sided with the Non-Chalcedonians and in 518 AD their Patriarch Severus was exiled from Antioch. They became known as the Syriac Orthodox. Embattled by the continuous wars between Byzantium and Persia, Christians were further divided in the East.

But that was only the beginning of the retreat or the third phase. The conquest of Muslim Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula around 630 AD carried out a most lasting danger to the survival of Christians. Having attacked the other tribes in Arabia, Mohammed forced them to change their religions into a monotheist religion: Islam, which assembled a heretic version of Nestorianism with a distorted view of Abraham's progeny in order to point to Mohammed's ancestors; a distorted view on the execution of Christ on the cross; and a literalist reinterpretation and execution of most of the Old Testament Law that became Islam's core Sharia. Islam removed reference to priesthood, and made of Jesus only a prophet but venerated Mary as the most pure of God's creation. To Muslims, Mohammed is the seal of the prophets. In Islamic countries that follow pure Islam, Islam and state are not separate. Ideally a caliph (or a successor to Mohammed) governs the Islamic state. When Mohammed united Arab tribes under his leadership, he set his ambition on the Byzantine and Persian empires. Taking advantage of their weary armies after decades of fighting, he sent to each of their leaders a message: "Aslim Taslam" (Arabic) which meant: If you convert to Islam you will be protected. Muslim armies separated Syria, the Holy Land in Palestine, Egypt, and the rest of North Africa from the rest of the Christian community. In less than 100 years, Islam had spread and controlled the lands from Arabia to Syria and Persia Northbound; to North Africa Westbound; and crossed to Spain in Europe while Eastbound it moved with vigor to Western India - if not wholly through military conquest then through trade.

In the first phase i.e. the beginning of the third age in the seventh century, Dawson wrote "the Church found herself beset by enemies on all sides; by the Muslim aggression in the South, and by the pagan barbarism in the North". Challenged by both, a long missionary effort laid the foundation of a new Christian culture in Europe termed "medieval." In this age, the Church "possessed a monopoly of all forms of literary education, so that the relationship between religion and culture was closer than in any other period." Catholicism was transplanted from the civilized Mediterranean area to the North Sea and influenced the social organization of cultures in the lands of Europe. As Byzantium and Rome remained in full communion, Christians under the Ummayad Islamic caliphate in Damascus translated works of the Greek philosophers to Arabic. One such Doctor of the Church who wrote in Arabic is John of Damascus, whose father Sarjoun was a financial administrator to the Caliph. John read the Islamic Qura'n and Christian Biblical books. He was allowed to become a monk at St. Saba Monastery where he wrote his theological works defending the Christian Trinity against Islam. His writings were influential to the Medievals in both West and East. His most enduring contribution was his defense of venerating the icons in Churches which the Byzantine Emperor Leo III ordered their destruction in his furious Iconoclasm, possibly under influence by Judaism and Islam's ban on images and statues. In 787, the Council of Nicaea II, with Papal legates present, excommunicated the Iconoclasts and restored the veneration of icons in the presence of Empress Irene.


Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote that Jesus must be Catholic.

We cannot underestimate the Church's power to survive guided by the Spirit of God. However, we see radical Islam and materialism as two challenging forces: Radical Islam invades non-Muslims by force of arms and forces Christians to run for their lives or convert under duress (mostly in the Middle East and Africa); Atheism intertwined with liberal materialism pushes Christians away from their traditional moral values (mostly in the West but increasingly too in the East).

The question asked of today's historians and tomorrow's generation is this: In which phase is the Church today? The first, second, or third? 

References:
Dawson, Christopher; "The Historic Reality of Christian Culture"; published by Harper; 1960; Pp. 47- 67.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid; "Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years"; published by Penguin; 2011.
Tarnas, Richard; "The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have Shaped our World View"; Ballantine Books - Reprint Edition; 1993.
Watson, Peter; "Ideas: A History - From Fire to Freud"; Phoenix; 2006.
Lewis, Bernard; "The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2000 Years"; Scribner - Reprint Edition; 1997.
Pinker, Steven; "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined"; Viking Adult; 2010.
Fukuyama, Francis: "The End of History and The Last Man"; Free Press - Reissue Edition; 2006.
de Lubac, Henri; "History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen"; published by Ignatius Press -Third edition; 2007.
Ratzinger, Joseph; "Truth and Tolerance; Christian Belief and World Religions"; Ignatius Press; 2005.
Ratzinger, Joseph; "Introduction to Christianity"; Communio; 1963.
von Balthasar, Hans Urs; "In the fullness of faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic"; Ignatius Press;1988.
Kerr, Fergus; "Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians"; Wiley-Blackwell; 2006
Barron, Robert; "Catholicism"; DVD Set, Image; 2011.
Catholic Encyclopedia; edited by Kevin Knight; 2012 - http://www.newadvent.org/cathen
Oxford Dictionary of Saints; edited by David Farmer; Oxford University Press; 2004.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine"; 5 vol.; University of Chicago Press; 1975-1991.
Pelikan, Jaroslav; "The Will to Believe and the Need for Creed"; Orthodoxy and Western Culture; 2004 /http://www.onbeing.org/program/need-creeds/feature/will-believe-and-need-creed/1293.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre; "The Phenomenon of Man"; Harper; 1965.
Brown, Raymond; "The New Jerome Biblical Commentary"; Pearson; 1990.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Much-Needed Courage of Joseph Ratzinger

There is no doubt in my mind that we live in dangerous times...
The blame-game in Ukraine continues to play between Russia and America...More victims every day...But radical fundamentalism polarizes the world. At the end we do not know who is right!
On Sunday July 27, 2014, Boko Haram, the militant terrorist group, continuing its Islamist challenge of Christianity and other religions in Africa, kidnapped the wife of Cameroon's Vice PM and killed at least 3 more people...Reuters reported it here. It seems that not any powerful nation could face it while the world is on-edge watching the on-going battles of Israel and Hamas. Had Hamas agreed to the Egyptian proposal advanced almost two weeks ago which Israel accepted for a ceasefire, they would have spared the loss of hundreds of lives in Gaza and Israel. But it appears that they wanted time to allow more construction or protection of their tunnels from which the terrorists emerge to launch attacks into Israel while America and France are dragged into the negotiations for a ceasefire together with both Qatar and Turkey who fund Hamas and smuggle weapons to terrorists and Obama raises his concerns when he had not set foot in Gaza. It is interesting that Hamas leaders make the decisions for their suffering people while they are enjoying themselves away from Gaza. And Israelis hawks continue to bombard civilians...Pope Francis appealed to all sides to seek peace, a repeated plea hardly heard. But at what price? Everyone I know wants security in this life and beyond.
It is absurd in that fiasco that nobody wishes to defend the defenseless Christians and Shiite Muslims in Mosul Iraq who had been persecuted by ISIS (DAECH), the new terrorist group emerging from Al-Qaeda while Qatar funds them with billions of dollars. Neither Russia nor America dared to stop them as if words were sufficient. Iraqi News reported that the Vatican sent only $40,000 to all the broken Christians of Iraq, many of them already killed or deported to the North (See here) while the government of France announced later that they are ready to receive the deported Christians in exile.

Why do we need to worry about threats to peace and security? In 1998 Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington published his study "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" reprinted in 2011.  In his book he identifies 8 civilizations that are reshaping or have shaped the world along religious lines. For him radical Islam represents the highest threat to civilization and security of America and Western nations. Why is the West sleeping?

In February 2014, an article by Tom Wilson titled "Jews and the Persecution of Christians" was published in the First Things (See here) where the author recounts a recent interview by The Times of Israel with Malcolm Hoenlein, Chairman of American Jewish Organizations. In the interview, Chairman Hoenlein demanded American and European governments to reverse their current stand and instead take actions and impose sanctions on Islamists that are killing Christians in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Egypt. For him, given the Jewish experience of persecution, it is important that Jews should lend their support to protect Christian minorities. "A century ago Christians constituted 20 percent of the population of the Middle East; Today that number stands at just 4 percent." In the same article Wilson made reference to The 2013 Erasmus Lecture by Jonathan Sacks published in First Things in January 2014. In it, the former chief rabbi forcefully declared "This is the crime against humanity of our time...And I, as a Jew, want to say that I stand solidly with Christians throughout the world to protest against this crime. And I am appalled that the world is silent." Bernard Lewis, the American scholar of Oriental Studies and a specialist in history of the Middle East at Princeton,  has since 1976 predicted "The Return of Islam" (See Commentary here). The moderate Muslim and author, Mohammed Hassanein Heikal, read history of Islam in the Middle East and showed his admiration of the studies made by Bernard Lewis. Heikal was read by President El-Sisi of Egypt so we can finally put our fingers on the moderate views of Egypt's new President and his latest proposal for a cease fire between Israel and Hamas. Why is the Arab world in turmoil? In a New York Times, David Brook expressed his opinion "No War is an Island" (here). Does he make sense?

Very recently we received a request from Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. urging us to seek assistance for the defenseless Christians in Iraq through contacts with good-hearts in America and Europe. Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. spoke in the Capitol, Washington on June 26, 2014. His speech emphasized the humanistic and spiritual roots of the West that the Western governments seem to be shedding today for petro-dollars. His full speech can be found here.

Lastly, as I have been reading Joseph Ratzinger, I remembered his lecture at the University of Regensburg in September 2006. There, Professor Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) exposed militant Islam. Speaking about reason, he gives the historical debate between the Christian Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Muslim Persian around 1393 on the subject of Christianity and Islam. Edited by Professor Adel Theodore Khoury, a Melkite Catholic priest and professor at Munster University, the seventh conversation cites the emperor's point: "Show me just what Mohammed brought, and there you will find only things evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."  Professor Ratzinger continues quoting the emperor "God is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (according to reason) is contrary to God's nature."

Any reasonable person can follow what Joseph Ratzinger said and read the rest of his lecture (See the full lecture here).

Eight years later, while we recognize the peaceful attitude of the vast majority of Muslims and with the fathers of Vatican II praise with them the one God (see Nostra Aetate), we recognize the truth in Joseph Ratzinger's (or Pope Benedict XVI) address for we need his courage.

Yet, we never know how Providence works. As on the night of the arrest of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago, Caiaphas predicted, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the imminent death of Christ to save the whole people of God, it is possible that the appeal of Pope Francis for global peace is probably ushering the convening of Vatican III that restores unity among Christians or the unity of nations or better yet the Pope may have ushered the Second Coming of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, who is the Truth.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Challenging the Pope

It s with bewilderment that I write these words. Christians in the globe are faced with much challenges. Yet, the action of Christian leaders of Churches seem to be slower than the pace at which these challenges are taking place. In  my lecture on Pope Francis last November, I spoke about them and again here before his visit to Jerusalem in May, I urged archbishops to speak to him to use his powerful ministry for a just peace. Only this week, I also sent an email to archbishops in Israel and Egypt of my concern about the challenges facing Christians in the lands of the Middle East from which emerged the early missions of Christianity.

Challenges
1. The challenge of extremism which does not seem to abate whether in persecution of Christians in the Arab world (particularly by extremist Islamists in Iraq and Syria whose goal is to remove Christians and Jews from the entire region) or in divisions of Christians in Eastern Europe, (particularly in Ukraine). In my 2011 letter to Pope Benedict XVI, I also proposed some measures of helping Christians achieve some form of unity in face of this challenge. But in spite of Pope Francis' efforts in the footsteps of his predecessors, the challenge of division between liberals and conservatives within the one Catholic Church has appeared more emphatically in recent months. Hoaxes and claims from conservative groups or atheists travel the Internet. Agnostics may also be invited to speak about their versions of Christianity in Catholic parishes.  The vast majority of people do not really want to be part of any religious conflicts or debates on religious differences. They only want to live in peace. But if they have to hear new claims to the truth, should not Christians be prepared in study of the Catechism?
Two very recent violent events are still enraging in hearts. The first is the violent War between Israeli forces and Hamas in Gaza - It is particularly heart-breaking to the many families who lost members or children only because Israel and Hamas terrorist leaders want to claim victory or seize land. Hamas does not care about how many Palestinians die - Their leaders, so desperate, will not quit until they all die and they call it martyrdom. Obviously they did not hear the wisdom spoken by Christ (Luke 14, 31-32).
The second event was the shooting down yesterday of a Malaysian airplane carrying 298 passengers over East Ukraine by terrorists believed to be Pro-Russia separatists while the Russian leader Vladimir Putin continued his rhetoric in Moscow. Not only is this a new threat to Ukraine's fragile economy but also another chapter in the increasingly dangerous political game between the powers of the world to control more resources and lands. The lives of victims obviously did not matter to the criminals.

2. The challenge of materialism that threatens the global Christian presence. Materialism, which started as a philosophical atheistic question over a 100 years ago (e.g. Nietzsche, Sartre, Carnap...etc.) has used economic capitalist globalization over the past 30 years to spread its consumer-oriented economic propaganda. Pope Francis condemned excessive capitalism in his exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" last year. The Pope precisely sees excess in materialist acquisition as fundamentally a new slavery of the human person. He recalls the Gospel beatitudes that give the blessings of Christ to the poor in spirit while he condemns the ones who accumulate wealth for themselves (See Matthew 5, 3-12; Luke 12, 13-21; Acts 4, 32-35).
Following a global financial crisis, the G7 governments and other governments attempted to regulate the financial banking transactions for a sustained economic recovery, but as the CEO of the IMF explained in February this year, recovery is a long process that has just started. Collaboration between stakeholders and governments is needed. However, it is widely recognized that the gap between the rich and the poor has dramatically increased and the Middle Class has virtually disappeared. Today the CEO of the IMF warned that the financial markets are perhaps too upbeat on Europe. In a separate analysis by MIT economist Andrew McAfee, he repeated the challenge by Thomas Edsall, reported in New York Times in June, which is faced by university and college graduates that their prospects of finding quality jobs could be a dream. This is a global concern. Every young adult and teenager needs to be informed and assisted where possible.

The above two challenges can be addressed by the Pope. Prayer and the Sacraments definitely help, but  I suggest too that the rich Catholic Churches in North America and Europe contribute to the relief of those in need. The Pope may be able to redistribute large donations from such charitable large Catholic organizations as the Knights of Columbus to Christians in need in the Middle East and other countries in the globe. The poor are always with us as Jesus said.

It is not only the intention that matters. Action too is required by all people of good will.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)







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