Pope Francis on a Mission


Handel's Messiah by Halleluja Chorus


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.

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.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Personal Hymn to God on the Anniversary of My Mother's Departure

How Can I Thank You?

How can I thank you? Twelve years ago today, Your mercy took  my mother to You; she who suffered immensely to deliver joy to her sons, husband, brothers and sisters. 
How can I thank you? You gave me life when in your foreknowledge you knew I did not deserve a second of it.
How can I thank you? You formed me in the womb of my mother when I was only a prayer in her heart.
How can I thank you? You proved that love is stronger than life itself when my parents sacrificed much for me and my brothers. How is it that my mother sold jewels to only satisfy my request to be with me before my heart surgery? How is it that they listened to my little voice of a 7-years old child saying "Mass" at home imitating your priests? How is it that my dad asked me to read him from the Bible while he was suffering before his death? How is it that you made them trust in the prayer of a great sinner?
How can I thank you? When my mother of blessed memory and my dear wife were nearly heart-broken in the longer-than-expected 6-hours heart surgery that I underwent, you brought us back together that my mother-in-law of blessed memory bowed and kissed the ground when she saw me back home.
How can I thank you? I did not love my mother first. She loved me from the time she saw me a little baby in her arms. Her beauty,  joy and smiling face -in spite of her many difficulties- still shone in her person to the last day she was aware. 
How can I thank you? You allowed us to immigrate to this land of freedom through the generosity of my aunt and her husband who dearly loved my devout dad. Do I ever forget their sacrifices as they, without children, considered us their children?
How can I thank you? In the past years since my illness, You sent me brothers and sisters, everyone in the extended family, friends; close and far from Toronto, Cairo, Paris, Alexandria, Montreal, Jerusalem, Belgium, and Beirut - All asking and praying for me.
How can I thank you? I, the son of earth: this is my name - can receive You the Son of the Most High in the Eucharist.
After my recovery from stroke in 2007, my wife said to me "How is it that you are still worried? If I were you I would dance of joy."
In my daily prayer I only say one "Hail Mary..." and the rest I leave it to You since, after all what You did with me O Love Eternal, You cannot reject me, nor anyone for whom the beloved Mother of God prays.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Marvels of God in the Human Mind

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change" -Max Planck, Father of Quantum Physics
Before you read the rest of this post, you may wish to watch this recent brief talk by Ray Kurzweil on "hybrid thinking"

Or watch MIT's Nicholas Negroponte on history of computing and the future here:

You may wish to read too this opinion written in June by Thomas Edsall and titled "The Downward Ramp" in the New York Times where you will find reference to a study by Paul Beaudry and David Green of the University of British Columbia and Ben Sand of York University - The entire economic research is worth reading since it deals with the future of young generations:

As I continue my online free study in some MOOCs courses of interests (https://www.coursera.org/) I have enrolled in a new course on (Algorithms - Design and Analysis - Part II) given by Dr. Tim Roughgarden at the eminent Stanford University  (see an introduction here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=170HCmphjUI).  I am fascinated by the bright minds that today manage research in new disciplines that were unthinkable decades ago. Although mathematics developed over many centuries it remains essential for courses in engineering, physics, computer systems, and big data.  The advances made in the computer industry have influenced many other industries and business development. A major force related to marketing, business development and analysis of big data in today's world is globalization. This is why I have enrolled in a new course on (Globalization) given by Professor Matt Sparke at the University of Washington (See an excerpt of an earlier lecture here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvMs9ZDMvfc).

Anyone in the globe with access to the Internet can enroll in free courses of interest which may be a step forward in learning, collaboration, and getting a better job. Over 8 million persons have taken one or more of 688 free courses offered through Coursera alone. They may help teenagers in high schools and young adults in colleges decide which careers would be of  interest and in demand. The limit is the sky? Not really. Parents know that learning costs money - lots of money in some cases. But, thank God, we have choices.
What interests me is the level of specialization that has taken place in most sciences to the point that students remain busy studying one or two disciplines for much of their time at the expense of enjoying outing with friends. No wonder then that many students get low marks and some opt out of school to their own career failure. Thanks to the Internet too there is a global entertainment industry such as sports - Teams from different countries, supported by their fans, are competing to win the World Cup in football/soccer in Brazil this month and a few ones have made it to the short list. But interest in sports will not land you a career unless you are a young gifted person and well-trained player. The same point can be made for careers in the movies industry. Local libraries are downsizing since most of the knowledge can be accessed online.

1. What moral  impacts do the above developments have on lives of individuals and societies?
2. What practical suggestions do you think will help society and individuals?

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Forgotten Churches of the Middle East

For over 50 years since Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has opened the dialogue of love with the Eastern Orthodox Churches and strengthened the fraternal ties Rome already has in full communion with the Eastern Catholic Churches since at least the 18th century.

One Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Apostolic See of Rome is the Melkite Catholic Church whose patriarch is the successor of Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch in the first century.The Melkite Catholic Patriarch presides over Melkite Catholics in 3 Patriarchates: Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem all of them go back to Apostolic times and are rightly considered Apostolic Churches. The Latins of the West did not have a presence in the Middle East until the Crusades liberated Jerusalem from Muslim hands and installed a Latin Patriarch there in the 12th century.

When Pope Francis visited the Holy Land in May this year, he embraced the Patriarchs both Latin and Greek who were present together with other Eastern Patriarchs and Bishops from the Middle East. But there is a dilemma there. While Roman Catholics in North America and Europe enjoy a relatively high standard of living, their Christian brothers and sisters of the Middle East suffer at the hands of violent Islamist fundamentalists in ancient lands where they once thrived such as Syria, Iraq, and Sudan, and have hardly escaped a tyrant fundamentalist one in Egypt.

The presence of Christians is dwindling in these lands and other Arab countries. In the 1930s, Christians made up 30% of inhabitants of the Holy Land.Today they hardly make up 2%.  Roman Catholics and other Christians in North America and Europe lack knowledge of Christians in these lands. They often confuse them with Islamist terrorists and consequently hardly any donations or other kinds of assistance are directed to them. As an example, the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem receives almost all donations from the Knights of Columbus in America and Canada while as the Melkite Patriarchate receives very little. Last year the Knights of Columbus at Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church in Toronto were honoured at Supreme Convention with the International Award for the Youth as a recognition by Supreme Council of their initiative "Jerusalem Students" which sponsor students in need that attend the Melkite Catholic Patriarchal School near Jerusalem. Yet the school is still struggling with keeping its students and paying its teachers.

How can the Knights of Columbus assist those Christians in need in the Middle East?

Friday, June 27, 2014

At Night in Niagara Falls

Before going to sleep facing the amazing Niagara Falls, I thought I would read a chapter from the Bible that always enriches my enthusiasm and helps me dream of beauty.

My story with this chapter goes back a while. When, in January 2005, I had a surgery to remove cancerous cells from my left kidney by Dr. Michael Jewett, FRCP(C) - a top-Canadian specialist in prostate and urology surgery and professor of urology surgery at the University of Toronto - I thought the threat of death by cancer was at least postponed. While recovering at Toronto General Hospital I continued reading my favourite books. And one of them was the Bible. I came across chapter 2 of the Gospel according to St. Mark and read: {And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean."
Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I will; be clean."
And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And [Jesus] sternly charged him, and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people." But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter} (Mark 2: 40-45).

How inspiring was this event! Every time Jesus healed somebody the Gospel indicates that faith was required by Jesus. But who am I to have faith? Except that here I found in the hospital that Jesus DID NOT REQUIRE faith in all cases. Probably I am one of those lucky faithless people who are still healed. That was a tremendous inspiring moment. Jesus, moved with compassion, healed the leper....

But wait, not so fast...I was happy to be released from the hospital after a week following the surgery. I went shopping with my wife in the same afternoon that my sister-in-law (the eldest who came from France to be with my wife during this time) wondered whether I was rushing my recovery. My mother-in-law of blessed memory had asked God before the surgery "Why take him - he has kids? Take me instead!" By 2 o'clock in the morning I had found fresh blood in my urine; a sign that, the doctors had warned me, should be enough to be readmitted to emergency. I was rushed to hospital. I knew my INR, the indicator for how thin is my blood, had gone up beyond the limits for my mechanical aortic valve. I was immediately injected with a good doze of vitamin K which coagulates blood. Dr. Jewett visited me to strengthen my spirit. But the bleeding was large enough that it formed a "hematoma" (a block of blood) which rested in the pelvis. To make up for the blood loss, the resident doctor, upon orders by Dr. Jewett, had to order liters of blood in bags to be injected gradually. Meanwhile my hemoglobin count (Complete Blood Count or CBC) went down to 70 which affected my self-awareness. I threw up blood and became sleepy. I rested while my wife spent the nights beside my bed.  Four liters of blood transfusion seemed insufficient to bring back the CBC to 100. Every time I received a liter of blood, my CBC edged up to 90 only to go down to 80. The doctor in charge said to me "That's it. I will try one more time. If your CBC does not go up and stay at 100, we cannot do anything else."  I was scared because this meant I will die. But so many friends, including my family and my extended family, prayed for me and visited me in hospital. My wife was always there. Two older friends prayed over me or with me in hospital, and the nurses took me to attend Mass in the chapel and attended with me.

Thank God, my CBC went up to 100. I spent another 20 days with the hope that my blood count will continue to be stable and go up to near normal level especially that I was back on the anticoagulant by order of the chief cardiologist, Dr. Lu. Dr. Lu, evidently, was concerned for my aortic valve. He met with me and my wife then spoke with Dr. Jewett. By the 20th day my CBC was around 115, and the urine bottle showed lighter blood in the urine, so I walked to the nursing station and asked that Dr. Jewett allow me to go home on my responsibility.  He agreed. A risk taken, but is not life full of risk? I came home. My wife spent with me almost a month at home where we received congratulations from everyone. She took me to be seen by Dr. Jewett who confirmed that he is not concerned with any remaining drops of blood in the urine. He said sternly that cancer could come back so I better go back to him for tests in 6 months. And he recommended that I see with my cardiologist Professor Dr. Sole and the heart surgeon Professor Dr. David how to correct my aortic aneurysm. I had already challenged the medical establishment and I am, thank God, still alive. For more on this see my post of December 2011 here.

In conclusion, Jesus healed me as he healed the leper. And, I could dream nice dreams last night at the beautiful Niagara Falls.

Today's Quote

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


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