“Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.” (Psa. 75:1)
At the beginning of the New Year, we again express our gratitude and thanks to God for all His benefits to us. In the words of David, “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.” (Psa. 65:11) “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.” (Prov. 30:5)
We are not unmindful of the many tragedies and atrocities of the past year which have caused much suffering and sorrow. We grieve and sorrow with all who have suffered. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (Rom. 12:15) “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” – the morning of the Kingdom. (Psa. 30:5) “Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31) We are assured that “he is faithful that promised.” (Heb. 10:23)
MAJOR EVENTS IN 2015
Terrorism: Occurrences of terrorism in 2015 are too numerous to list individually. It is estimated there were nearly 300 incidences through November, killing and injuring many thousands of people. In Europe, France seemed to be hit particularly hard, perhaps because it has the largest Muslim population in Europe and has been criticized for failing to integrate this population into its society. France also has a long history of colonization in North Africa, which has caused resentment in the Islamic world. France has become a breeding ground for ISIS fighters.
In Paris, twelve people were killed in January in a terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine, which is known for publishing satirical cartoons of Muhammad. The attackers appeared to have ties to Al-Qaeda. A few days later, an attacker took hostages at a kosher supermarket in Paris. Four hostages were killed and the attacker was killed by police. In November, a series of coordinated attacks at six different locations in Paris killed 130 and wounded over 300. ISIS claimed responsibility. Terrorism experts were surprised that ISIS was able to carry out an attack of this scale.
France had recently joined other Western powers in bombing ISIS in Syria, targeting the group’s oil infrastructure. French President Francois Hollande vowed a “merciless response” to the attacks. On November 15, French war planes delivered 20 bombs to Raqqa, in northern Syria, considered by ISIS to be its capital.
In Denmark, two people were killed in terrorist attacks in February, one targeting a cartoonist who caricatured Muhammad and another outside a synagogue.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram continued its terror, taking over the town of Baga in January, burning it to the ground, massacring hundreds, possibly thousands. This terrorist group has declared a caliphate that covers one-fifth of Nigeria. Violence has displaced more than one million Nigerians, creating a wave of refugees fleeing to the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. In February, Boko Haram reportedly killed at least 91 and injured over 500 by shooting and burning in Cameroon. Boko Haram has increasingly used women and children as human bombs, with a number of attacks involving girls as young as 10. The girls, strapped with explosives, blew themselves up in public places. In March, Boko Haram formally pledged allegiance to ISIS, further extending the reach of that group.
In Libya, 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were beheaded in February by a militant group aligned with ISIS. In the northern Africa nation of Tunisia, at least 20 people were killed in March when gunmen opened fire at a museum. Also in Tunisia, a gunman opened fire at a beach resort, killing 38 tourists. ISIS claimed responsibility for both attacks.
In Yemen, about 140 were killed in March at two Shiite mosques in attacks attributed to affiliates of ISIS (who are of the Sunni sect). Yemen has been in a state of rebellion and revolution since 2004, with rival groups battling for control. Yemen is considered a terrorist training ground. In Kenya, Somalian militants targeted non-Muslims in a daylong siege in April at a University. The non-Muslims were taken hostage and more than 140 were killed. The Al-Qaeda aligned militants termed the attack an “operation against the infidels.”
In Turkey, a bomb attack in July in the town of Surac killed at least 30 and wounded hundreds. Officials think the attack was the work of ISIS. In October, multiple bombings killed nearly 100 during a peace rally in Turkey’s capital of Ankara. Hundreds more were wounded. The Turkish government had recently agreed to let U.S. fighter aircraft use a Turkish air base to launch bombing raids on ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
On October 31, a Russian passenger jet crashed 20 minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, killing all 224 people aboard. The crash was determined to be the result of a terrorist bomb. ISIS claimed responsibility, citing retaliation for Russia’s bombing of ISIS in Syria. In a video, ISIS threatened further attacks against Russia.
In Beirut, a pair of suicide bombings in November killed 43 and injured at least 128. ISIS claimed responsibility. The blasts occurred in an area where Hezbollah and Iran-backed Shite militia have a presence (both are enemies of ISIS). Also in November, terrorists stormed a hotel in Bamako, Mali killing 27. An Al-Qaeda affiliate claimed responsibility.
“‘I wish I could also have died’: Boko Haram haunts kids: Memories of Boko Haram’s murderous spree in his Nigerian hometown haunt Tom Gowon, 9, as he sits on a patch of grass at a refugee camp, sipping steaming porridge from a plastic mug. ‘I was lucky because I was not killed,’ said Gowon, recalling the assault on Baga, Nigeria, in early January. ‘But they shot and killed my father. My mother was kidnapped by the militants…’ The child is shellshocked, his life changed forever. ‘I don’t know where my future lies,’ he said. ‘I wish I could also have died...’ (USA Today, March 11, 2015)
Comment: Truly, the groaning creation is travailing in pain, waiting to be “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21,22)
Syrian Civil War: Terrorism is deeply intertwined with the ongoing civil war in Syria. More than 250,000 Syrians have died since March 2011 when pro-democracy protests turned violent, ultimately escalating into civil war. War crimes have been committed by both sides with the government carrying out chemical attacks against rebels. Over half the country’s population has been displaced, with more than four million people fleeing Syria and more than seven million others internally displaced. A huge humanitarian crisis has resulted.
Regional and world powers have been drawn into the conflict, with Russia and Iran supporting the Assad government and western countries backing the rebels who are labeled as “terrorists” by the Syrian government. The Assad government is believed to be heavily subsidized by Iran and is also supported by Hezbollah. Diplomatic attempts to stop the conflict have failed.
In addition to the rebels, ISIS militants are also fighting against al-Assad, capitalizing on the chaos by taking control of huge swathes of territory. ISIS has waged a campaign of terror and is also accused of using homemade chemical weapons. A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting air strikes against ISIS since 2014, while attempting to avoid any attack that would benefit Assad. In September 2015, Russia began an air campaign against Assad’s opponents, ostensibly only targeting terrorists (primarily ISIS) but many of the strikes hit western backed rebels and civilians. Tensions in the region escalated in late November when Turkey shot down a Russian war plane it claimed had violated its airspace.
As the opposition to Assad has become increasingly extremist, the Western backing for the rebels has cooled. Ironically, this may be leading to even more extremism. One civil society activist was quoted as saying: “The disappointment caused by the West’s inaction created a fertile recruiting ground for extremists, who told those who had lost their loved ones that they were their only hope.” (BBC.com, “Syria: The story of the conflict,” October 9, 2015)
Refugee Crisis: The vast majority of Syrian refugees have fled to the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Turkey is sheltering more Syrian refugees than all of Europe and the U.S. combined. However, a large number have made their way to Europe. It is not only Syria that is contributing to the crisis. Violence, abuse and poverty in other countries such as Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq and Albania has also led large numbers to flee. This influx of migrants has set off tensions among the countries of the European Union as they struggle to cope with the surge of people arriving. More than 700,000 migrants have sought asylum in EU countries so far (through October) in 2015. The EU is pressing Turkey to keep migrants there. However, Turkey will not allow migrants to apply for asylum, leaving those migrants with an uncertain future. They face harsh conditions and are unable to legally work. Their access to healthcare is limited and most refugee children are not enrolled in school. As of late October an estimated 3,100 refugees have drowned in 2015 trying to cross the Mediterranean to the Greek Islands.
In the U.S., the acceptance of Syrian refugees has become a political issue, with most Republican lawmakers opposed to allowing these refugees to enter the country, particularly after it was disclosed that one of the perpetrators in the November Paris attacks entered Europe among Syrians fleeing the civil war.
The continued rise of ISIS: This extremist group continued to dominate headlines in 2015, terrorizing large areas of Syria and Iraq, executing captives, forcing women and girls into sexual slavery, and brutalizing minority populations as well as other Muslims who do not ascribe to their extreme religious views. In late 2014 the CIA estimated the group to be up to 30,000 fighters and growing. A large number of foreign fighters have reportedly left their homes to travel to join the terror group. With the continued bombing of ISIS targets by the U.S. and other Western countries, the group has called on its followers in Western nations to conduct attacks in their home countries. Their aim seems to be to attack ordinary people doing ordinary things, making it appear that no one is safe. If people think their governments cannot protect them, it will lead to a breakdown in order. Another aim seems to be to make Westerners less sympathetic to refugees fleeing ISIS from the Middle East.
“Islamic State’s sophisticated recruiting campaign poses persistent threat in U.S.: The arrests of six Minnesota men accused earlier this month [April] of attempting to join the Islamic State group, highlights an unprecedented marketing effort being waged by the militant group in Iraq and Syria, U.S. law enforcement officials and terror analysts said. ‘This is not so much a recruitment effort as it is a global marketing campaign, beyond anything that al-Qaeda has ever done,’ said a senior law enforcement official…While officials believe that the U.S. will never produce the volume of recruits being drawn from Western Europe, where a disaffected Muslim population and a lack of integration has helped contribute thousands of foreign fighters to the Islamic State, … the U.S. nevertheless remains an important focus.” (USA Today, April 27, 2015)
“4 ways ISIS grounds its actions in religion, and why it should matter (COMMENTARY): The terrorist group affirmed, in a statement issued in Arabic, French and English, that it chose the targets ‘accurately,’ identifying Paris as the ‘capital of prostitution’ and France, because of its participation in the war against ISIS, as the Crusader… There are four critical observations on the ISIS-issued statement, and one general conclusion.
“1. ISIS based its actions on a literal reading of the Quran… It views itself as truly Islamic and claims its actions are supported by the Quran. Contrary to common wisdom, ISIS maintains that the Paris attacks reflect the compassion and mercy of Allah through the destruction of French infidels…2. For ISIS followers, France is at war with Islam. The statement portrays France (and its allies) as Crusaders, literally ‘the holders of the Cross,’ portraying the war in purely religious terms… France is one of the leaders of ‘the Crusader campaign,’ which cursed Muhammad, and struck ‘Muslims in the land of the Caliphate.’ 3. The attacks were meant to imitate seventh-century raids led by the Prophet Muhammad. The statement identified the Paris attacks using the Arabic term ‘ghazwa.’ This term is primarily used in the biography of Muhammad to refer to his raids and expeditions against the non-Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century. By using this unique Arabic term, ISIS signifies its claimed noble religious cause, imitating the military campaigns in the earliest Islamic period…4. The terrorists viewed themselves as martyrs for Islam. The Islamic State’s statement refers to the attackers as martyrs for the sake of Islam, identifying them as young men who ‘divorced the worldly life’ to die in the path of Allah and for his cause… One cannot erase the effects of such horrible attacks executed under the banner of religion. To claim that all Muslims are terrorists is far from correct, but to deny or underestimate the significant power and influence of some Islamic texts and specific interpretations of them is not prudent, either.” (Religion News Service on-line, November 16, 2015)
Israel: In March, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke before the U.S. Congress at the invitation of House Speaker Boehner. This was an attempt to sway the Obama administration against a nuclear deal with Iran, but was seen by many as an attempt to undermine Obama’s foreign policy. In his speech, Netanyahu insisted that the deal could threaten the existence of Israel, all but guaranteeing nuclear arms in Iran. When the deal was in fact reached later in July, Netanyahu called it an “historic mistake.”
“Iran deal debate devolves into clash over Jewish stereotypes and survival: Supporters of the agreement find themselves compared to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who went down in history as the man who tried to appease Hitler. Their critics ask how they can endorse a deal – which would lift Iranian economic sanctions and allow it to pursue a limited nuclear program – when its leaders threaten to destroy the world’s only Jewish state. The Holocaust looms over the nuclear deal debate. Obama doesn’t seem to understand that fear, said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the pro-Israel International Fellowship of Christians and Jews...‘When there’s rhetoric saying “we’re going to destroy you” and they have the power to do so, we’ve learned “never again,”’ said Eckstein. ‘Take them at their word and don’t let it happen.’
“‘What makes this a little tough for Jews is that it’s very hard to forget that there was another country out there and another leader who used this kind of language in the 1930s, and a lot of people refused to take it seriously,’ said Jonathan Sarna, professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University. ‘We all know how that turned out.’” (Religion News Service on-line, August 13, 2015)
“UN nuclear agency report: Iran’s uranium stockpile has grown: Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium has increased in the past three months even though Tehran is supposed to reduce it significantly under a deal with major powers, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday [November 18] in a confidential report seen by Reuters.
“Iran had also moved centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, at its Natanz and Fordow sites, the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. Under the deal with major powers reached in July, Iran is supposed to reduce the number of centrifuges it has in operation.” (Jerusalem Post on-line, November 18, 2015)
In October, the worst violence in years broke out between Israelis and Palestinians, with 32 Palestinians and 7 Israelis killed. The unrest began because of what Palestinians perceived as encroachment by Israelis on the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. However, the violence quickly spread beyond Jerusalem. Palestinian groups called for a “Day of Rage.”
“With secret prayers, Jews challenge ‘status quo’ at Jerusalem holy site: In a region full of complexity, the Al-Aqsa/Temple Mount status quo occupies a special place. It upholds a rule that has effectively existed since 1187, when Muslim warrior Saladin defeated the Christian crusaders and held on to Jerusalem: non-Muslims may enter the sacred compound, but only Muslims can pray.
“Before Muslims built the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa mosque in the late 7th and early 8th centuries, two Jewish temples, the second destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, stood at the site, which is both the holiest place in Islam outside Saudi Arabia and the most sacred place in Judaism.
“After Israel seized the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, it agreed to continue the status quo, recognizing the risks of igniting a religious war if anything were changed. It gave Jordan special responsibility for overseeing the Muslim holy sites via the Waqf, an Islamic trust….the Waqf says Israel has been slowly chipping away at the rules, with increasing numbers of religious Jews visiting the area and many of them surreptitiously praying.
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected those suggestions, saying repeatedly that the government has not changed the rules and has no intention of doing so….The Israeli government points out that only about 12,000 Jews visit the site each year, as against four million Muslims.
“Figures from the Israeli police show a steady increase in Israeli Jewish visitors. Combined with that, groups that advocate more Jewish access to the site, and the rebuilding of a Jewish temple there, have become more organized in their efforts, casting it as an issue of religious freedom….While no one prays openly – they are warned and ejected by police if they do – the groups usually drift off into a grove of olive trees at the eastern edge of the compound where more secretive prayer is possible. Some have written on blogs about worshipping there, proud to have violated the rules.
“‘If they say prayers in their heads, how can we know?’ said Nader Shaheen, a Waqf guard, who says he frequently sees Jews praying and is frustrated when the police do nothing.” (Reuters, October 26, 2015)
“Candidly Speaking: The global jihadist onslaught and European Jews: In the midst of this turbulent, massive migration and ongoing fears of new terror attacks, the future for European Jews appears bleaker than ever.
“Jews in most of Europe were considered pariahs for many years. Today, the level of anti-Israelism has reached record levels. The majority of Europeans believe Israel represents a greater threat to global security than Iran and North Korea. Most are convinced that Israelis have genocidal intentions in relation to the Arabs, make no distinction between Palestinian terrorists and Jewish victims of terrorism and frequently condemn Israelis for defending themselves against knife-wielding religious fanatics…
“While millions of Syrians have been displaced and butchered, European leaders seem more concerned about labeling products produced by Israelis over the Green Line [the 1949 armistice lines established between Israel and its Arab neighbors] than identifying terrorists. Ironically, the EU does not consider the political wing of Hezbollah to be a terrorist body. There remains a refusal to recognize that the frenzied killers of Israeli Jews and IS terrorists murdering civilians in Paris, are all components of the same global Islamic terrorist enterprise.
“Despite the greater concern about Islamic terrorism in the wake of the shocking attacks in Paris, even now it is highly unlikely that the negative French attitudes toward Israel, designed to appease the Arabs, will be diminished.
“Although many Western parliamentarians and heads of state pay lip service to the contrary, popular anti-Semitism appears to be washing over the continent like a tsunami with increasing incitement and violence in most European cities.” (Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post on-line, November 18, 2015)
Race relations in U.S.: In the year following the 2014 shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, racial unrest seems to have increased and relations between police and minority communities are at a low point.
A mass shooting in June at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C. once again brought racial tensions to the surface. After photos surfaced of the shooter displaying a Confederate flag, protesters called for the flag’s removal from the South Carolina State House grounds as well as from other displays in the South.
At the University of Missouri, a series of protests claiming bigotry on campus resulted in the resignation of the president of the university system and the chancellor of the campus. These protests spread to a number of other campuses.
“Poll Finds Most in U.S. Hold Dim View of Race Relations: Seven years ago, in the gauzy afterglow of a stirring election night in Chicago, commentators dared ask whether the United States had finally begun to heal its divisions over race and atone for the original sin of slavery by electing its first black president. It has not. Not even close.
“A New York Times/CBS News poll… reveals that nearly six in 10 Americans, including heavy majorities of both whites and blacks, think race relations are generally bad, and that nearly four in 10 think the situation is getting worse. By comparison, two-thirds of Americans surveyed shortly after President Obama took office said they believed that race relations were generally good.” (New York Times on-line, July 23, 2015)
Comment: Pastor Russell wrote, “Mankind is one family: God ‘hath made of one blood all nations of men.’ (Acts 17:26) Each member of the human family is a human brother to every other human being. All are children of the one father, Adam, a son of God (Luke 3:38)…” (Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 4, page 310)
Gun violence: According to CDC statistics, more than 32,000 people are killed by guns each year in the U.S. Nothing seems to be done about it, mainly because politicians fear the consequences of taking on the powerful gun lobby. Reports of mass shootings are so common that we scarcely pay attention to them, yet there are many more shootings we do not hear about. According to the website Mass Shooting Tracker, there were 338 mass shootings in 2015 through November 20, an average of more than one a day. A mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot in one incident.
In addition to the Charleston, S.C. shooting, we mention a few of the shootings during 2015: nine killed at a biker shootout in Waco, Texas (May); nine killed at a community college in Oregon (October); a total of seven killed in two incidents in Colorado Springs (three at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in November and four downtown in October). The deadliest shooting of the year thus far was on December 2, when 14 were killed in a bloodbath at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California. In addition to those killed, many more were injured, including 17 at San Bernardino.
“American deaths in terrorism vs. gun violence…: Using numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we found that from 2001 to 2013, 406,496 people died by firearms on U.S. soil. (2013 is the most recent year CDC data for deaths by firearms is available.) This data covered all manners of death, including homicide, accident and suicide…According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas as a result of incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was 350. In addition, we compiled all terrorism incidents inside the U.S. and found that between 2001 and 2013, there were 3,030 people killed in domestic acts of terrorism [nearly 3,000 were as a result of the 9/11 attacks]. This brings the total to 3,380.” (CNN.com, October 2, 2015)
“More Young Americans Now Die From Guns Than Cars: The United States is one of the greatest nations in the world. But compared to our peers, we’re one of the worst when it comes to gun violence. In America, you can be shot at an elementary school. You can be murdered at a church or movie theatre. You can even be executed on live TV – and yet there’s no real expectation of gun reform...Gun related deaths in America wildly outpace our peer nations…” (Forbes.com, August 26, 2015)
Comment: We continue to look forward to the Kingdom when “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:9)
RELIGION IN 2015
“Study: Americans becoming less Christian, more secular: The number of Americans who don’t affiliate with a particular religion has grown to 56 million in recent years, making the faith group researchers call ‘nones’ the second-largest in total numbers behind evangelicals, according to a Pew Research Center study released Tuesday [May 11]... Between 2007 and 2014, when Pew conducted two major surveys of U.S. religious life, Americans who described themselves as atheist, agnostic or of no particular faith grew from 16 percent to nearly 23 percent. At the same time, Christians dropped from about 78 percent to just under 71 percent of the population.” (Associated Press, May 12, 2015)
Comment: Even among those who identify themselves as Christians, few have faith in Jesus as the ransom. Jesus prophesized of this condition saying, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) Writing about this prophecy, Pastor Russell said, “Thus the sunlight of the Gospel is daily becoming more and more obscure… The Scriptures variously forewarn us of this great falling away, as well as of this darkening of the faith of the Church at this time; so that the Son of Man when he cometh will find the faith very scarce on the earth.” (Volume 4, page 592)
Pope’s visit to the U.S.: The Pope’s visit to the U.S. in September drew much attention. This Pope is intent on improving the Catholic Church’s image, choosing to ride in a Ford Focus rather than a chauffeured limousine. He is popular among Catholics and Protestants alike and his speeches sound like those of a politician running for office. He champions such causes as income inequality and climate change and promotes unity among Christian denominations.
“U.S. Church, in Pope Francis’ Afterglow, Sees Chance to Win Back Faithful: Over six days, throngs of Roman Catholics and non-Catholics in three cities swooned over Francis, the ‘People’s Pope,’ who asked the downtrodden and the mighty alike to pray for him. The crowds have gone home. But a papal afterglow remains, injecting the American church with new energy in small but unmistakable ways… While it could easily be short-lived, Catholic officials at every level, from parish priests to archdiocesan officials, are now praying – and strategizing – over how to sustain a Francis bounce.” (New York Times on-line, October 2, 2015)
“From Antichrist to Brother in Christ: How Protestant Pastors View the Pope: More than half of evangelical pastors say Pope Francis is their brother in Christ. More than one-third say they value the pope’s view on theology, and 3 in 10 say he has improved their view of the Catholic Church. Those are among the findings of a new study of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors, released this week from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
“Overall, the survey found that many Protestant pastors have taken a liking to Pope Francis… ‘Our sample itself – Protestant pastors – is named after the Protestant Reformation, so they are particularly interesting to survey,’ said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research.” (Christianity Today on-line, September 25, 2015)
“Atheists rap Congress for letting pope preach: Members of Congress from both parties may be welcoming Pope Francis to the Capitol on Thursday (Sept. 24), but the Freedom From Religion Foundation? Not so much. The Wisconsin-based advocacy group took out full-page ads in The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today and The Philadelphia Inquirer. ‘Why is the pope preaching to Congress?’ asks the ad in The Washington Post that includes quotes and the visage of President John F. Kennedy. The nation’s only Catholic president spoke of the importance of ‘absolute’ church-state separation and said he believed in a country ‘where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope.’ ‘Unfortunately, Congressional leaders John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, both Roman Catholics, appear not to share JFK’s vision of a secular America,’ the ad reads.” (Religion News Service on-line, September 25, 2015)
“Irish priests to hear confessions in shopping malls over Christmas period: Irish priests are hoping to take advantage of Irish shopping mania in the lead up to Christmas--by hearing confessions in shopping centers… The priests will be available to shoppers inspired by Pope Francis’s words to seek out those in need wherever they are. Shannon’s Parish Priest Fr Tom Ryan told The Irish Catholic [newspaper] the initiative ‘was in response to Pope Francis’ call to priests to go out to the market place and proclaim the Gospel.’” (Irish Central on-line, November 27, 2015)
“Pope Francis ‘prepared to battle’ on Vatican reform: Despite intense opposition from some conservatives and new revelations of financial scandals in the Vatican, Pope Francis is at peace with the reformist course he has set for the Catholic Church, according to a cardinal who is a leading adviser to the pontiff….Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga also said that the latest reports of excessive spending and political maneuvering by officials of the Roman Curia only confirm the need to press ahead with an overhaul of the papal bureaucracy…. ‘It’s a revolution going on (in the Vatican). But a revolution of love, and hope,’ said Rodriguez…” (Religion News Service on-line, November 4, 2015)
“European Catholic bishops call for regional action ahead of Paris climate talks: On Monday [October 26], Catholic leaders from five continents issued a 10-point appeal for climate negotiators to come to a just and ‘truly transformational’ climate agreement in Paris …European church officials have also organized a series of activities leading up to the climate conference, including fasts, marches, conferences and seminars that will also include Jewish, Buddhist and Protestant leaders, among others… [Cardinal Reinhard Marx] acknowledged the church had been slow in forging a climate action plan. ‘The church can learn from the world,’ he said, in ‘understanding the signs of the times.’” (Religion News Service on-line, October 30, 2015)
One reader of the above article posted this comment on line: “The Pope has spoken to the world on the morality of the issue but the Church has no responsibility to lead the world in this secular pursuit.”
Comment: The Bible foretells of the coming together of Protestantism and Catholicism. Pastor Russell wrote of this saying, “…the ‘sure word of prophecy’ indicates very clearly that the various Protestant sects will form a cooperative union or federacy, and that Catholicism and Protestantism will affiliate, neither losing its identity. These are the two ends of the ecclesiastical heavens which, as their confusion increases, shall roll together as a scroll (Isa. 34:4; Rev. 6:14) for self-protection – as distinct and separate rolls, yet in close proximity to each other.” (Volume 4, page 258)
Not everyone is enthralled with the Pope’s efforts to change the image of the Catholic Church. Columnist George Will had these caustic words:
“Pope Francis’s fact-free flamboyance: Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony. With a convert’s indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false and deeply reactionary. They would devastate the poor on whose behalf he purports to speak…This man who says ‘the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions’ proceeds as though everything about which he declaims is settled, from imperiled plankton to air conditioning being among humanity’s ‘harmful habits.’ The church that thought it was settled science that Galileo was heretical should be attentive to all evidence.
“Francis deplores ‘compulsive consumerism,’ a sin to which the 1.3 billion persons without even electricity can only aspire. He leaves the Vatican to jet around praising subsistence farming, a romance best enjoyed from 30,000 feet above the realities that such farmers yearn to escape.
“As the world spurns his church’s teachings about abortion, contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage and other matters, Francis jauntily makes his church congruent with the secular religion of ‘sustainability’… Francis’s fact-free flamboyance reduces him to a shepherd whose selectively reverent flock, genuflecting only at green altars, is tiny relative to the publicity it receives from media otherwise disdainful of his church.” (The Washington Post on-line, September 18, 2015)
“How religion is roiling the GOP race: After the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the mass killings that shocked France, Republican White House hopefuls pounced, leveling harsh rhetoric about Islam and calling for a much more aggressive strategy to fight the radical group known as ISIS. Ted Cruz said the United States should deny entry to Muslim refugees from Syria, but leave the door open to fleeing Christians… Jeb Bush echoed that view, saying U.S. efforts to assist refugees should focus on Christians. ‘I do think there is a special important need to make sure that Christians from Syria are being protected because they are being slaughtered in the country…’ Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s months-long front-runner, declared that he would strongly consider closing down mosques …These comments come as a crowded field of GOP presidential candidates are fighting to win the support of Christian conservatives in early voting states like Iowa and across the South, in part by vowing to fiercely protect religious liberties.” (CNN.com, November 17, 2015)
Comment: It is hard to see how these sentiments promote protection of religious liberties.
“After Paris: Remembering Christians who have killed in God’s name: To visit the grand old Christian cathedrals of Europe is to be reminded of the close alliance between church and state for centuries in waging all kinds of wars in the name of Christ and Christendom. Just look up at the stained glass windows integrating cross, sword, and crown. These wars claimed the lives of Muslims, Jews, and fellow Christians.” (David Gushee, Religion News Service on-line, November 17, 2015)
The date of our Lord’s Memorial is March 21, 2016 after six p.m.