Pope Francis on a Mission

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Handel's Messiah by Halleluja Chorus

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Monday, July 28, 2014

The Much-Needed Courage of Joseph Ratzinger

There is no doubt in my mind that we live in dangerous times...
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. 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. Yesterday 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 renowned 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.

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, we recognize the truth in Joseph Ratzinger's (or Pope Benedict XVI) address and 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.

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"
http://www.ted.com/talks/ray_kurzweil_get_ready_for_hybrid_thinking

Or watch MIT's Nicholas Negroponte on history of computing and the future here:
http://www.ted.com/talks/nicholas_negroponte_a_30_year_history_of_the_future

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:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/opinion/the-downward-ramp.html?_r=0

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.

Questions:
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?

Today's Quote

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







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