Tag Archives: Vatican

POPE CONDEMNS GENOCIDE

Crucified  Christian girls, Turkish Armenian Christian genocide, 1915
Crucified Christian girls, Turkish Armenian Christian genocide, 1915

In a few days, it will be exactly one hundred years since the Ottoman Turks started a genocidal program to eliminate their own Armenian citizens.   An estimated 1.5 million Christian Armenians died in a persecution that continued until well after World War One.   It wasn’t just Armenians.   Assyrians and Greeks, both Christian communities, also perished.

Yesterday, in a mass attended by the Armenian president in Rome, Pope Francis referred to the Turkish action as “genocide”.   Naturally, the Turks see things differently, claiming a smaller number died and that they were simply casualties of war.   There was no deliberate policy to wipe out Christians.   The Turkish Ambassador to the Holy See was quickly recalled yesterday following the Pope’s comment.

Popes have been around a long time, almost 2,000 years in fact.   And the Vatican has a long memory.

One thousand years ago, it was Turks killing Christians that provoked Pope Urban II to call western Europe to arms, launching the Crusades that led to two centuries of conflict between Muslims and Christians.

In 1453, the Turkish conquest of Constantinople ended the Roman Empire in the East.   Persecution and discrimination against Christians followed in Asia Minor.  During a tour of Turkey three years ago, I asked our tour guide three times what happened to all the Christians when the Turks took over.   I never got a straight answer.  My own research concludes that many fled the country, others were slaughtered, and many more were sold into slavery.  Only a small number were allowed to continue to practice their faith.

In 1529 and again in 1683 it was Catholic troops that saved Vienna from conquest by the Ottoman Turks.

Although relations have been much better in recent decades, it was a Turk who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II on 13th May, 1981.

And now the Vatican risks tension between Rome and Ankara by bringing up the Armenian slaughter of a century ago.

The reason for this is probably more due to recent and ongoing events in the wider Middle East.   All over what used to be the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, Christians are being murdered by Islamic extremists.   In Syria, Iraq and Libya the slaughter of Christians continues unabated.

Furthermore, Turkey has not condemned this.

Western leaders have chosen not to address this humanitarian crisis.

Could a pope once again call the West to action against Islamic atrocities?

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TWIN THREATS PROMPT CALLS FOR ACTION

Pope

One thousand years after the Crusades, the Pope is calling for force to be used to protect Christians in the Middle East.

The Catholic website “Crux” is currently leading with the headline:  “Vatican backs military force to stop ISIS ‘genocide’.”   The news story begins with the following two paragraphs:

“In an unusually blunt endorsement of military action, the Vatican’s top diplomat at the United Nations in Geneva has called for a coordinated international force to stop the “so-called Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq from further assaults on Christians and other minority groups.

“We have to stop this kind of genocide,” said Italian Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative in Geneva. “Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t do something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”

At the same time, the Fox News website’s top story is:  “Islamic State intensifies its efforts TO WIPE OUT CHRISTIANITY.”

Meanwhile, there has been another call for a European Army.

Presently, every single country in Europe has its own military.   However, many European nations are members of NATO and co-operate greatly on defense.  In spite of increasing threats to the peace and stability of Europe, some European countries have been cutting defense expenditure in order to balance their budgets in a time of austerity.   This has caused some resentment in the United States.  Many feel that Europeans are not pulling their weight.  A number of countries are spending less than the required 2% of their budgets on defense.

At the same time, Europeans are concerned that Americans seem intent on raising the stakes in Ukraine by sending more arms to Kiev.   This scares some European governments including Germany.  Additionally, the US is closing 15 military bases in Europe, as if to emphasize that the country’s priorities are changing.

Europeans see Russia as their greatest threat at this time.  So do many members of the US Congress.  However, differences remain on how best to handle Russia.

The President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, has called for an EU Army to make the Russians realize that Europe is serious about Russia’s threats (“Jean Claude Juncker calls for EU Army,” The Guardian, 8 March).

In the last twelve months, Russia has invaded and annexed Crimea, continues to occupy (supposedly through surrogates) eastern Ukraine and has increased intimidating military flights over the Baltic countries and the United Kingdom.

But Russia may not be the biggest military challenge Europeans face.   Islamic extremism could be an even bigger problem.

The Europeans have to contend with both ISIS and Al-Qaeda.  The latter was behind the attacks in Paris in January.  ISIS is now at Europe’s back door with a significant presence in Libya, Italy’s former colony, and not that far away from the Italian peninsula.   ISIS also now has an ally in Boko Haram, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State a few weeks ago.   Boko Haram is causing a great deal of turmoil in Nigeria and neighboring countries, all of which have commercial and historical ties with European countries and the EU.

The Bible highlights the fact that the Middle East is at the center of Bible prophecy.  Many of the prophecies in scripture could not have been fulfilled until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire less than a hundred years ago.  The subsequent peace treaty created a number of new countries, many of which remain in varying degrees of conflict and instability.  Deeper tensions came with the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948.   These events have made the final biblical scenario all the more credible.

Daniel 11:40-41 prophecies:  “At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through.  He shall also enter the Glorious Land (the Holy Land)….”

Earlier in chapter 11 we read a prophecy, written in the sixth century BC, of Alexander the Great.  His empire, a fulfilled prophecy, came about two centuries after the prophetic words of Daniel were written.  As predicted, his empire was eventually divided between his four generals.  Two of these generals founded biblically significant dynasties, one to the north of Jerusalem (the King of the North, or the Seleucid dynasty) and one to the south of Jerusalem (the King of the South, or the Ptolemaic dynasty).   These two dynasties were often in conflict.  As the Jews were in the middle, they suffered greatly because of them.

After the horrendous climactic events in the middle of the second century BC, the prophecy takes us down to the present time, where, once again, there’s a king of the North and a King of the South.   It should be noted that the prophecy has a gap of two thousand years because the Jews did not have a country of their own during that time.  Now, once again, they do.

The ancient King of the North was conquered by the Roman Empire in 60 A.D.   A new revived Roman Empire is going to emerge as the new King of the North, although it won’t be called by that name.  But it will fulfill the prophecy in Daniel 11.  It will send troops into the Middle East to deal with the growing threat of Islamic militancy, political turmoil and conflict.  A European Army is more likely to be used in this region than against Russia.

But, after intervening in the Middle East, that same army may have to deal with Russia.  “But news from the east and the north shall trouble him . . .” (v. 44).   It should be noted that Russia, Iran, Syria and a number of central Asian, former Soviet republics, co-operate militarily.  If Europe was embroiled in the Middle East, Russia would no doubt take advantage and annex other countries that were formerly in its empire.

This brings us back to the pope’s call for force to be used to save Christians in the Middle East.

In the latter part of the eleventh century, Muslim Turks massacred Christians and treated surviving Christians cruelly.  This led to Pope Urban II in 1095 calling for a Crusade against the Muslims, to free the Christians in the Holy Land.  The Crusades lasted two hundred years.

Today, it’s not the Turks who are persecuting Christians.  It’s ISIS and other extremis groups.   And, it’s not just Christians who need protecting.   Other minorities also need intervention on their behalf.   But, as with events a thousand years ago, it could be the pope who calls nations to arms.

Western civilization is once again seriously threatened.  Politicians, never able to see beyond the next election, seem blinded to this reality.   The papacy is, once again, more in tune with global reality.

The pope’s call, together with the call for an EU Army, show that the prophecies of your Bible are on track, leading ultimately to the second coming of Jesus Christ to establish His Kingdom.

POPE’S VISIT TO ISTANBUL

Pope in Turkey

What’s behind the Pope’s visit to Istanbul?

It should always be remembered that the Vatican is a country, with its own king, the Pope.   Historically, Vatican meddling in secular affairs has contributed greatly to human conflict. This is particularly true when it comes to the historic struggle between Islam and Christendom.   Popes have been instrumental in leading the West against Islam.

Pope Francis’ visit to Istanbul can hardly be described as pastoral, as there are only 35,000 Catholics in Turkey.   It’s therefore safe to assume the visit was political. What did the pope have in mind?

This visit was the fourth time a pope has visited Turkey. The first was Pope Paul VI in 1967. He caused quite an upset when he prayed in the Hagia Sophia, the sixth century church built by the Emperor Justinian. When Istanbul (then called Constantinople) fell to the Muslim Turks in 1453, the church was turned into a mosque. Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Repubic, turned it into a secular museum 80 years ago.   Pope Francis was careful not to pray in the 1,500-year-old building, not wishing to provoke Muslim sensibilities.

The visit was intended to improve relations, firstly between the primary leader of Christendom and his equal, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, the 270th person to hold the title. Both churches go back a long way.   The historic schism between the two occurred almost a thousand years ago, in 1054.   Threatened by secularism and Islamic extremism, both leaders talk about unity, but, after a millennium, it’s not likely to happen.   This does not, however, mean they cannot work together.

The pope is also interested in establishing closer relationships with the Islamic world. Unlike the Orthodox Church, there is no primary leader in Islam, but the pope is concerned about the worsening situation in the Middle East. A century ago, most of the countries that are in turmoil today were ruled from Istanbul as regions of the Ottoman Empire, the same Turkish Empire that conquered Constantinople in the fifteenth century. Istanbul was, therefore, a good place to start to reach some sort of rapprochement with Islam.

The pope called on Islamic countries to roundly condemn ISIS and to protect religious minorities in their midst. The whole region has witnessed a great deal of persecution of Christians in recent decades, after centuries of fairly peaceful relations between the two major religions.

With the persecutions in mind, the pope should have asked the religiously conservative leader of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, what happened to the Christians after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The official answer is that their conqueror, Mehmed I, generously gave them the freedom to practice their religion, as evidenced by the presence of a small community today. Only 1% of the country now is Christian. One thousand years ago, almost all the people were Christians. I asked this question a number of times during a visit to Turkey but never got a truthful answer.   History shows that while some fled to Italy (and contributed to the Renaissance), most were killed, sold into slavery or forced to convert.

It’s what we can all expect if ISIS defeats the West.

Is the papacy once again going to lead the West against resurgent Islam?

WHAT WOULD ST PETER MAKE OF THE CHURCH?

St Peter

I’m nauseated by the coverage of the change in the papacy.

It’s not that I have a problem with the new pope, because I don’t.  He seems a very humble man and his focus on the poor is commendable.

What’s wrong is not even his fault.

I’m talking about the constant references to the “fact” that he is the personal representative on earth of Jesus Christ.

It’s also frequently said that he is the 266th pontiff, a direct successor to St. Peter, who started the Catholic Church.

If that’s true, then Peter has a lot to answer for!

The Catholic Church today sets a very good example in some respects, adhering strictly to conservative teachings that most churches long since abandoned – just as their members have, in turn, abandoned them.  Pope Francis I is only going to boost the church with his stated interest in the poor and his very approachable manner.   Leaders of other churches should take note – not all churches are led by what you might call “people-people.”  Certainly, religious leaders are not generally humble.  At the same time, it has become the accepted norm for religious leaders to live in big houses and enjoy a high standard of living.

But the Catholic Church, the wealthiest organization on earth, has not always had the image it has now.  Its history has been violent and sordid.  You only have to watch Showtime’s The Borgias to see this.  (Please note:  The Borgias is remarkably historically accurate for a television series.)   The Borgias were a wealthy Italian family in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries who got control of what was a very corrupt church – and made it even more corrupt.  Pope Alexander VI, a Borgia, left his wife behind and took a mistress whom he kept in the Vatican.   His son, meanwhile, was made a Cardinal and had a reputation for constant debauchery.  Alexander got to the papacy through bribery, threats, and even murder.  The political shenanigans that went on would embarrass most politicians in the world today.

Even that wasn’t the worst period in the church’s history.  In the ninth and tenth centuries, a Catholic monk labeled the government of the church “the pornocracy,” the government of filth.  Google that word sometime and you can read all about it.  There was even a female pope – a woman masquerading as a man who rose to the highest office and was only discovered when she gave birth to a child while surrounded by a crowd in Rome.

“If Peter came back as a pilgrim, how would he judge what goes on in the Vatican by the standards of the gospel?”  This question was asked by a former priest and graduate of Gregorian University in Rome, Peter de Rosa, in his 1988 book “Vicars of Christ” (page 26).

He then notes the contrast between the relative poverty of the disciples with the great wealth of today’s church.   “Jesus was born in a stable.  In his ministry, he had nowhere to lay his head.  Today, his Vicar inhabits a palace with eleven thousand rooms.  And then there is Castelgandolfo, overlooking the Alban Lake where pontiffs go to escape the summer heat.”  Here, in a palace bigger than the Vatican, Pope John Paul II had a private swimming pool installed.

“Jesus renounced possessions … Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, he said, where neither rust nor moth can spoil it.  Christ’s Vicar lives surrounded by treasures, some of pagan origin.  Any suggestion that the pope should sell all he has and give to the poor is greeted with derision as impractical.  The rich young man in the gospel reacted in the same way.”  Will Pope Francis be different?  He has already said he wished the Church was poor.

On the next page he points out another contrast.  “The celibacy of the clergy, popes included, might also surprise Peter, seeing that Jesus chose him, knowing he was married.”

He expresses consternation at the pope’s grand title “Pontifex Maximus,” “for in his (Peter’s) time, that was the title of the pagan high priest of Rome.”

At great length, he explains that the papacy’s claim to go right back to Jesus Christ is inaccurate and a convenient misreading of scripture.   (I will post something on this on another day.)  The legitimacy of the Church is based on this claim and gives them a big advantage over other churches – but it is totally, biblically and historically without basis!

Can Pope Francis really make a difference?  Two thousand years of history suggests not.  His age (76) is also against him.

But, if nothing else, he may be able to encourage some self-examination on the part of the government of the Church – the Roman Curia, the bloated bureaucracy that effectively controls the Church.   Looking at history, he is unlikely to make it worse.

As for television reporters, please read more history and get some depth!

REFLECTIONS ON THE CHANGE IN ROME

Pope Francis l

240 years later, the country has clearly changed its attitude toward the Catholic Church and, in particular, the papacy.

Whereas the colonists burned an effigy of the pope and kicked a football (soccer ball) made to look like his head every November 5th, the anniversary of a Catholic attempt to blow up the English parliament and its new king in 1605, today’s Americans have been glued to their television sets watching the election and presentation of a new pope with as much interest as in a US presidential election.

Unbelievably, there is no questioning Rome’s claims of its special status in the myriad world of Christianity, with its thousands of sects and denominations.   A Catholic friend called me the day after the new pope was chosen and told me that his understanding has always been that the Catholic Church was the church founded by Jesus Christ and the reason why some people left the church in the sixteenth century was due to corruption within the church.   Take away the corruption, therefore, and you have the pristine church that Jesus founded.

On February 28th, CBS, to its credit the only non-cable station carrying live coverage of the previous pope leaving the Vatican, had the following commentary as Benedict XVI’s helicopter took flight:

“Just as Jesus’ disciples watched Him ascend into the heavens, so his personal representative on earth ascends watched by his disciples today”  (paraphrased).

Really, somebody should educate these journalists – none of them seem to know any history.

As I told my friend on the phone, the church Jesus Christ founded was very different from the Catholic Church.   The early apostles went to church on Saturday and observed the annual holy days given to the Israelites at the time of Moses.   They avoided the same meats the Jews avoided following the Old Testament instruction they had known since early childhood.

After the Jewish revolt in 66-70 AD anti-semitism throughout the empire led to persecution of the early Christians.  When the church emerged from that dark period it was a very different church.

Two hundred years can make a very big difference.   The dominant church two centuries after the Jewish revolt was totally different from the early church; just as American attitudes to the papacy today are the opposite of colonial attitudes in the eighteenth century.

PAPAL NUNCIO – FIRST CLASS AMBASSADOR

vatican-city_1

In the evenings, we would regularly take our children for a walk around the neighborhood.   As fuel was severely rationed, there was little danger from traffic – though the occasional goat could get too close!

One of the homes we frequently passed was the residence of the papal nuncio – the “Embassy of the Holy See”.

The papal nuncio at the time was described in the national newspaper as “the doyen of the diplomatic corps”.  In other words, the senior ambassador.   It was his job to organize the diplomats of the various nations represented in Ghana, whenever the Ghana government had something special going on and wanted to invite ambassadors to be in attendance.

Arguably, this made the papal nuncio very influential.

It struck me at the time that the Vatican had the world’s best diplomatic corps – far better than the United States.

In 1979 when the Shah of Iran was overthrown, we were in Ghana.  It was a tumultuous year for both countries.   The US Ambassador to Ghana was informing the State Department in Washington DC that the pro-US military government of Ghana was stable and that the people were loyal to it.   Many of us were better informed – we knew the people were greatly suffering contending with serious food shortages and an inflation rate of over 600%.   Non-diplomats were expecting trouble!

We were not surprised to learn that the US Ambassador to Iran was informing Washington that the pro-American Shah of Iran was stable and popular.    Early in 1979 the Shah was overthrown and replaced by the Islamic theocracy that still rules the country.   Some say this event was the start of World War III, which is still going on – the never-ending conflict between the West and Islamic militancy.   The then Ambassador’s ignorance cost the US dearly.

In Ghana, the government was overthrown on June 4th and a radical, revolutionary government took over, backed by Libya’s madman, Colonel Gaddafi.  Other Gaddafi sponsored coups followed in other west African countries.   Once again, a serious failure of US intelligence.

The doyen of the diplomatic corps was always better informed.

NARROWING THE GAP

Pope bus

In 1978, sensing the failure of communism in Eastern Europe, they chose a man from Poland as pope, the first non-Italian in five centuries.  Pope John Paul II contributed to the fall of communism, along with Lech Walesa, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Four decades earlier, cardinals voted in Eugenio Pacelli as Pope Pius XII.  Pacelli had strong German connections in a year when the likelihood of a European war was growing.  Germany seemed the most likely victor so the church was simply taking advantage of an opportunity.

Another opportunity presents itself now.

Arguably, the biggest issue confronting most countries is the growing gap between rich and poor.   The economic Rule of Inequality is a reliable way of predicting revolution or domestic strife.   The bigger the gap the more likely a revolution!

According to the Economist magazine some time ago, China is very concerned about this gap and the prospect of instability, so this has become a major focus of concern.  There has been a clampdown on corrupt officials in an effort to resolve the problem.

According to the same magazine, the only industrialized country with a greater gap is the United States.  What saves the US right now is food stamps, unemployment benefits and Medicaid – take these three away and there would be serious rioting across the land.  The gap may be great, but the issue was not even mentioned in the last election.

The situation is a cause for concern in many countries right now – what will it be like if there is a double dip, if the global economy goes down again like it did in 2008?   It’s quite possible this could happen.   If it does, and life becomes harder for what are sometimes referred to as the “99%”, the “1%” can expect trouble.   (These terms were made popular by the Occupy Wall Street movement.)

So, the Vatican’s choice of Pope Francis I is astute, showing an awareness of the greatest need in the world at this time – the need for a new economic system that replaces the evils of our present failed  system with something more equitable.