Today's Wisdom

When we meet a person truly in need, do we see the face of God?
Pope Francis

Handel's Messiah by Halleluja Chorus

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An Elegant Hymn

Written by the Late Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III (in English My Throbbing Heart; in Arabic قلبي الخفاق )

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Great Evils of Modernity

In the early morning of August 26, 2015 we watched in horror a video of murder of two young adults: Alison Parker a TV reporter;  and Adam Ward her cameraman.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Two Cats

My curious cat, Cleopatra (or Cleo), amazed me when she slept in my chair from which I write my posts as I was away for a few days in early August 2015. Cleo wakes me everyday with her little voice crying for attention. Now she turns around my feet while I write my words then chooses to put her little foot on top of mine as a sign of affection. The older cat, Guccio, is also close to me and particularly to my wife - Guccio likes to cuddle in my wife's arms and sleeps there until she wakes him up. Pets are animals like us in many ways. They eat, sleep, and need protection and affection. For the elder whose kids are too busy to visit them often, pets are a company that help them walk and be active. This is a particularly social phenomenon in Western countries, like Canada, that care for animals.

Some conservatives may find it odd to claim that humans are animals. However, in the bio-physical sphere humans share 98% of their genetic code with chimpanzees, and 70% with horses...The advent of homo sapiens, our ancestors and us, is regarded as the final complex phase of a long evolution (See my post here).

The mind is probably the most complex reality that distinguishes human beings from other creatures. Marc Hauser, past professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard University, wrote about the basis of the distinct mind in humans in Scientific American in 2009. His article shows, in contrast to Darwin’s theory, a profound gap between us and animals, or as the well-known Jesuit scientist Teilhard de Chardin put it, there is a leap from the biosphere to the noosphere which is the sphere of the human mind that can ask himself about himself.

The complexity of the human mind, unmatched by that of any other creature has been confirmed by much recent research. Hauser gives this example: “One of our most basic tools, the No. 2 pencil, used by every test taker, illustrates the exceptional freedom of the human mind as compared with the limited scope of animal cognition. You hold the painted wood, write with the lead, and erase with the pink rubber held in place by a metal ring. Four different materials, each with a particular function, all wrapped up into a single tool. And although that tool was made for writing, it can also pin hair up into a bun, bookmark a page or stab an annoying insect. Animal tools, in contrast—such as the sticks chimps use to fish termites out from their mounds—are composed of a single material, designed for a single function and never used for other functions. None have the combinatorial properties of the pencil.”

I find it fascinating that the evolutionary vision of Teilhard de Chardin was introduced by Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, in his theological "Introduction to Christianity" written in the late 1960s (See here). On evolution as a mechanism in creation, Saint John Paul II affirmed the Catholic Church's favourable agreement to its scientific findings in his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in October 1996 (full message can be read here).

However, it is not the mind alone but what we do with it that really built civilizations. In June 2015, the historian Yuval Noah Harari explained to some 400 persons (as also reached through the Internet by nearly 900,000 persons) the rise of humans and the massive cultures that by now humans control the planet Earth (listen to his brief talk here; or read the transcript here). The reality of cooperation between the early homo sapiens has been addressed too in a massive article in the August 2015 issue of Scientific American by Curtis Marean, Professor of Human Evolution at Arizona State University. His team in collaboration with teams of researchers at the University of Johannesberg, and the University of California found the basis of the ascending home sapiens invasion of the planet. The migration from Africa to the Near East and Eurasia was successfully completed by our ancestors because of their collaboration in defending their tribes which then extended themselves to the shores and lands of Australia and the Americas some 70,000 years ago.

Although Harari speaks in terms of fictional stories invented by humans - which are not always the case for believers, especially that the historical evidence for Christ's crucifixion and resurrection has been demonstrated (here) - he makes two points:
1. What sets us apart is massive cooperation in all fields of knowledge and the transmission of this knowledge. This is the result of belief systems where I trust you will give me what I need to eat in exchange for a piece of paper (a dollar bill) even if it is the first time that you see me.
2.  The survival of human beings may be threatened soon by the machines they make (such as robots) or probably two classes will be created if material consumerism continues: the very rich (virtual gods) and the very poor (slaves). Eliminating this threat has been shown by Pope Francis in his recent Encyclical Laudato Si (here).

Cooperation is possible between two countries who signed peace agreements. As Egyptians are celebrating the achievement of completing and opening the New Suez Canal, the Egyptian author Ali Salem, writing in Al-Masry Al-Youm, recently proposed cooperation with Israel as beneficial to both countries and the region as a whole. Ali Salem has been writing in favor of cooperation between Arabs and Israel since his visit to Israel following the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. He later described his visit as a "serious attempt to get rid of hate". Why enmity when Israel can help Egypt in its economic recovery and its war on terrorism in Sinai? The technological advances in the Israeli industries can then be shared by Egyptians. Receiving Jews in Egypt will also help change the Salafist destructive influence found in Al-Azhar and his Grand Imam whom the Egyptian President has been begging for a better religious discourse that recognizes the right to life of billions of non-Muslims.

Again, cooperation has become an urgent requirement for Christian unity between Orthodox and Catholic Churches. President Putin of Russia is reported to have called the Turkish ambassador recently where he was given a harsh lesson after inappropriate comments by the Islamist Turkish President Erdogan. In the report (which requires confirmation) Putin also threatened Turkey to turn Syria into a big "Stalingrad"if Turkey does not cease supplying ISIS with weapons - "Tell your dictator Erdogan to go to hell..." (here). Putin has made his evaluation of terrorism public (YouTube in French here). If Putin is ready to defend the legitimate government of Syria, it could be an opportunity for Pope Francis to go to Moscow and work as a bridge between the United States in the West and the Eastern Christian nation of Russia. This step could be followed by convoking an Ecumenical Council in which Eastern Orthodox bishops and Catholic bishops participate for finding ways to save Christianity. Our bishops could write to the pope on this matter sooner rather than later.

In his latest book written in French "Mourir c'est naitre" Fr. Henri Boulad S.J. brings hope of eternal joy with God to an atheist world. He insists that atheism (or doubt) is a wave that will bring everyone to experience God beyond the theological abstracts of the past. In introducing his book (Conference in French here), the 84-years old missionary said "The problem of atheism is not rational,,,It is rather existential. The problem arose with rationalism and positivism of the last 2-3 centuries. For civilizations from ancient times, what mattered was not life here but preparation for eternal life or immortality." In other words, Boulad says, "I believe more in 3 million years of faith in immortality than in 300 years of skepticism. I know that I will never die...When you look back to your life, you will see the years of love with parents and beloved. There is a universe in me; a universe of desires of hopes; of dreams...One day I will arrive at myself... " Quoting Gabriel Marcel "Love is to say to the other: You cannot die". Henri Boulad speaks about the "Other" regardless of his religion or no religion. God is in the other person..."The secret of love is this: Death is really being born to the other. To be yourself is not simply you alone. Adam carried in himself all humanity, but he could not express this richness except through his offspring. All these faces before me have been present within Adam but Adam could not show them; for he was limited with his one face. Thus all human history is a deployment of more human persons. How come we cannot find two completely identical persons?  Does not this mean that each one is unique?" Everyone reflects the rays of God who loves everyone and came in Christ to save humanity. What a great talk! But for this I need time to read the whole book. Let us discuss it when there is a chance!

And last but not least, it was announced in the Sunday August 9 Masses at St. Alphonse's Church that over 550 projects are being carried out by the Catholic Church in Canada which require $3.4 million in donations; half of them are for missions and the other half includes religious education for children, youth, adults, and seminarians. This is a serious matter for the Church in Canada. The Gospel reading from John 6, 41-51 reminded us of Jesus' words I am the bread that came down from heaven,...No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me." Can we really help in renewing the Church and expanding the mission where we receive God in the Eucharist?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Significance of the Caritas Egypt Event in Toronto

Last night, July 28, 2015, the fund-raising dinner to support Caritas Egypt was a success. Yes, we could have had more participants if the ticket price was right, the delivery of tickets to churches was early enough, and the date was not in the middle of the week in the month of July. Yet we had His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, seated besides Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. (who is in charge of Caritas Egypt) and other priests and dignitaries among us. In his introduction of Fr. Boulad, Cardinal Collins spoke about the many years that the beloved Jesuit priest spent serving Christ in Caritas, his missions in Sudan to help the poor, his programs for the disadvantaged in Egypt, his retreats that challenge the young to follow Christ, and his work in the Jesuit schools all over Egypt for the benefit of all to get proper education. Carl Hetu, director of CNEWA Canada came from Ottawa and delivered an impressive speech about the situation and violence he saw in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt and made a point of the need to support needy and suffering people of the Near East. After watching a video that featured the work done by Caritas in Egypt in education, health care, women care, small business and employment, Fr. Boulad delivered his outstanding speech in which he called on Canadians to support the economic reform underway in Egypt and described the projects undertaken to officially open, for international trade, a new large channel in the Suez Canal in August 2015 as well as construction projects to build a new modern capital in Egypt within 5 years, plus renovations in train systems, energy supply, water distribution and others. An ambitious economic program, Egyptians require financial support from the powerful nations of both West and East. Fr. Boulad himself bought a land near Alexandria and constructed a home for the disadvantaged and poor children from Upper Egypt and the Delta to enjoy a few days or a week and meanwhile learn discipline and new skills near the beach.

All of the above is good and necessary, but we must not overlook why St.George Centre was chosen as the location of the event. St. George Centre belongs to St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church. Weeks before the event we spoke with Fr. Iskander Younes, Pastor of St. George, and asked him to be present. A letter signed by Fr. Boulad was sent to him. Fr. Iskander agreed to welcome Catholics, Orthodox and other Christians in the centre, which he did when he was asked to speak last night before anyone else. He was among the dignitaries, did not hesitate to listen to the wise words of Cardinal Collins, Fr. Boulad and other dignitaries all of them Catholic; and with Cardinal Collins he blessed us before the meal which symbolizes communion in the breaking and sharing of the bread. It is a communion between the Church of Rome and other Churches not yet in full communion but according to Blessed Pope Paul VI, it is real.

Since the convocation of Vatican II (1962-1965) by Saint Pope John XXIII, leaders of Catholic and Orthodox Churches have come to realize that full Christian unity is necessary. Saint Pope John Paul II remained committed to the goal of the Council and in his 1979 visit to Dimitrius, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, he uttered the words: The Church needs to breath with both her lungs! It is urgent today for all Christians on the globe to be reunited as they face together the threat of global terrorism, violence in the Middle East, material consumerism, and an increasingly ugly education that belittles or questions traditional moral values.

It is for this reason that next time there is such a great gathering for Caritas Egypt in Toronto, more efforts and larger volunteer teams must be formed that would reach out to the nearly 40,000 Chaldean Catholics and Assyrians from Iraq, Syrian Orthodox Churches, Antiochian Orthodox Churches, Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox Churches and over than 2 million Roman Catholics in the Greater Toronto Area alone. The cause is not about Egypt alone. We are all in the same boat and need each other...

St.Augustine said two words which I would like to close with:
1. "Not every Christian in the Church belongs to her; not everyone outside the Church is stranger to her." - Everyone needs to find Christ who is among us and worship him in his relationship with the other...
2. "Be moderate in everything except in love" - Remain moderate in your thoughts and actions. Extremism to liberalism or conservatism may be dangerous.  Nothing is required from you other than what you can do. Only love must be strong in you...

Perhaps next time we can start afresh with the above words from a great philosopher and a doctor of the Church...

Friday, July 24, 2015

Henri Boulad, S.J.: Lord, give me a heart of compassion

In ancient Greece, people loved beautiful things, beautiful women, beautiful kids. It’s all too natural and spontaneous. Such a love called "Eros" was widespread in the ancient Greek, Roman and Assyrian-Babylonian cultures. With Jesus, we have a revolution. He does not suppress "Eros" but he brings to us a new notion called "Agape."  The human being is not a way to play around but he is an end in himself. We see Jesus in the Gospel healing paralytics, casting out demons, showing a preference to the marginalized. This is Jesus. Without him, we would not have known social justice, human rights and respect of the person.
In the suburbs of Cairo, Beirut, Rome, Paris or Toronto, billionaires live in luxurious compounds and travel all over the world for fun, while entire families are packed in one room and try to survive with a few dollars a day. When you read the gospel, you cannot accept such a situation.
From the beginning of the Church, the principle of keeping nothing for oneself was practiced by the Christian community. At the time, sharing everything with others was a totally new notion. When persecution of Christians ended in the 4th century, St. Basil started what we call today hospitals. It was not 5-star hospitals, but halls and rooms where the sick, the poor and the hungry were taken care of.
With Jesus, religion becomes compassion. The good news does not consist of telling the suffering « some day you will rejoice in heaven with God and his angels » but going right now to the poor, the distressed, the hungry and treat them as your brothers and sisters.  
Do we know that all that started with Jesus? ​Do we know that the Universal Charter of Human Rights is essentially inspired by the Gospel? Do we know that the principles of the French Revolution - liberty, equality, fraternity – have their roots in Christianity? Try to discover such principles in the other religions around you. Liberty is reserved to rulers and masters. Equality between man and woman, rich and poor, persons belonging to other religions does not exist. Fraternity is based on blood, and is reserved to the members of one’s clan, group or community... 
Saint Paul makes it clear that everyone is equal to everyone else. « There are neither rich nor poor; neither man nor woman, neither free nor slaves… »
Let’s think of Vincent de Paul in the 17th century. This nobleman struggled to buy slaves and free them. You have no idea how horrible was their situation at that time. They were sold like merchandise or animals in the market places of Zanzibar and Gorée Island, next to Dakar in Senegal, then sent from Africa to the Americas to be sold there. They were laid on top of each other inside the ship carrying them where they would vomit or excrete feces on each other for days and weeks. 
Vincent de Paul cared for them to the point of himself becoming a slave for two years due to his activities for which they wanted to get rid of him. This man inspired scores of people willing to share Jesus'​compassion for the belittled.
Egypt would not have been what it is today without this army of religious men and women who struggled to build hospices, hospitals and schools. Their sense of total self-giving is rooted in Jesus’ teaching. It’s not easy to give your whole life when you could get a great job, gain money, become rich.
When we see misery around us, we can no longer settle around a hot meal or get under a warm cover in the cold night without saying: “Why me and not the others?” A few weeks ago, I was very tired. When people came to visit me I said to myself "Why me and not the thousands of other sick persons in Alexandria?" When I see the medicines I consume to recover and the cost of the hospital, I say: "Why so many people cannot afford such expenses?”
Jesus came to reveal us God's compassion. The word “compassion” comes from the Latin – compatire which means “to suffer with, to feel empathy with”. So many people visiting a sick person sell words and say nice expressions without true feeling. Oftentimes it’s a comedy of compassion. If somebody visits me when I am sick, I know immediately if he really communes with me or not. This is why the Lord sometimes allows us to suffer tragic incidents... so that when somebody says "I suffer" we really understand him and feel empathy with him. True compassion is badly lacking today!
Recently I visited a sick person in a far hospital. Alone and rejected by his family, he was feeling terribly hungry. When we brought him food, a large smile appeared on his face!
Mother Teresa insisted that we should go “to the poorest of the poor". All her followers try to embody her wish. I am in deep admiration for so many young sisters leaving their homes and countries to help our poor in Egypt. This is extraordinary.
Lord, give me a heart of compassion... a heart that beats with those who suffer… a heart able to make their suffering mine. Along with material help, let me feel true compassion for them. Let me show them respect, regardless of their appearance and social status.
The Gospel is a revolution. We do not know what the world would have been without Christ. We, who are supposed to be his followers, have a long way to go until we become real Christians. If Christianity is to continue its powerful presence in the world, it is by its appeal to the dignity of the human person, created in the image of God.
Lord, you said "I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" (Luke 12: 49). Is not this the fire of the Holy Spirit blazing in the heart of humanity to heal it? Is not this the fire that Christ baptizes us with in order to return ours to his everlasting joyful heart?
Lord, Give me a heart of compassion like yours...
Original in French :


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Who is next?

Canada is the most admired country in the world in 2015 according to the Reputation Institute's survey of 48,000 residents of the G8 countries. Norway placed second on the list, followed by Sweden, Switzerland and Australia. The United States slotted into the 22nd spot. According to the Institute's Fernando Prado, Canada is praised for "its effective government", "absence of corruption", "friendly and welcoming people", and its welfare support system (here).
The above report was published at a time in which the people of Greece are experiencing hard times. The people of Greece will have to accept tough conditions from their external creditors such as the IMF and Germany. In a significant analysis Dr. George Friedman (founder of Stratfor, an American global intelligence specializing in geopolitics) wrote a significant article on the background of the European crisis in Greece (Titled The Empire Strikes Back, it can be found here). Professor Stephen Walt at Harvard writing in the American Foreign Policy did not shy away from writing "Does Europe have a future?" (The analysis can be read here). And The Economist. as always, bombarded its readers with more updates on it (here).

If Canada is the most admired country in the world, why should Christians in Canada care about Greece or the nearly-broken Europe?
There are a number of answers to the above question:
1. Europe is the continent where Christian civilization made the most-enduring influence for some 2000 years. It is in Rome that Peter was crucified to death and his successors continue to govern the Catholic Church. Today, as before, the world listens to the voice of the successor of St. Peter as the global moral authority.Unchallenged by its political representation in the majority of countries from the North to the South and from the West to the East, the Vatican has an immense political influence.
2. Pope Francis is particularly seen as a man of God who advocates the poor, the marginalized and neglected against the tyranny of money and excessive capitalism. This reality worries the very rich in North America and Europe. The average high standard of living in the G8 countries is a question mark for poor people in other countries; some of them are in East Europe and/or part of the European Union such as Greece and Ukraine. Many other poor people live in underdeveloped countries or emerging economies including most countries in Africa and Latin America. On his way back from Latin America, Pope Francis was asked questions to which he gave precise answers on why he advocates the poor. In his mind, it is not a sociological or economical class warfare that he is advocating but a doctrine of the Church expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Read the interview here).  The question remains: Can anyone hope for a serious dialogue between the rich North and the poor South?

The renowned Jesuit scholar Henri Boulad, SJ, who belongs to the same order from which the pope hails will be in Toronto from July 24 to the end of July 2015. Fr. Henri Boulad (who is a personal friend to many of us in Toronto) is the head of Caritas Egypt; a Catholic organization (Caritas Internationalis) through which he served the poor in the Middle East for decades. In the presence of His Eminence Cardinal Thomas Collins and many priests, both Catholic and Orthodox, Fr. Boulad will be speaking in a large dinner served by the Knights of Columbus standing for the dignitaries on Tuesday July 28 at St. George Centre an essentially Christian Orthodox centre (9116 Bayview Avenue, Richmond Hill). All Christians in the Greater Toronto Area are invited to buy tickets by contacting george.farahat@gmail.com or bouladcanada@gmail.com

Nearly fifty years have gone since the end of the Second Vatican Council which opened the Church to the dialogue with the world. And the question remains for the cause of the poor in Europe (already under much tension since terrorism targeted it in 2014-2015) and the rest of the world especially people of the Middle East exposed to terrorism: Who can speak for the poor, the marginalized and the neglected. Who is next to suffer?

Today's Quote

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







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