Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pope to Netanyahu-Jesus Spoke Aramaic-Israeli PM Netanyahu quibbles with Pope Francis over Jesus Christ’s mother tongue
JERUSALEM — Reaching the close of his Mideast pilgrimage Monday, Pope Francis was one on one with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” Netanyahu said in the meeting. “He was speaking Aramaic,” the pope corrected, smiling. “He spoke Aramaic, and he also knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu fired back, in what was apparently the most accurate statement in the exchange — according to a professor contacted by Reuters.  The disagreement over Jesus Christ’s native tongue marked a starkly different atmosphere than Pope’s meetings with other politicians in the region, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — whom Netanyahu has denounced for his move to reconcile with the Islamic militant group Hamas. This Mideast tour has proved to be a balancing act of symbolic and sometimes spontaneous gestures to press the Pope’s call for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and friendship between Jews and Muslims in the land of Jesus’ birth. A day after he boosted Palestinian aspirations by praying at Israel’s security barrier surrounding Bethlehem, Francis honoured Holocaust victims by kissing the hands of several survivors, and accepted Israel’s last-minute request to pray at a memorial to victims of suicide bombings and other attacks. But the image that the Vatican hopes will define the trip, and perhaps Francis’ young papacy, was another: that of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church embracing his Argentine friends, a rabbi and a Muslim, in front of the Western Wall, adjacent to the disputed hilltop compound that lies at the heart of decades of Israel-Arab tensions. After visiting the golden-topped Dome of the Rock shrine on the compound on Monday morning, Francis prayed at the nearby Western Wall, leaving a hand-written note with the “Our Father” prayer written in his native Spanish in between the cracks of stone. When he finished, a visibly emotional Francis embraced Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, a leader of Argentina’s Muslim community, both of whom joined Francis on his official delegation in a potent symbol of interfaith friendship. “I think this was the real answer to such problems that come from very long and profound difficulties,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said of the embrace. “What can we do? We can pray. We can ask God to help us. We can love mutually and then embrace.” That logic lies at the heart of Francis’ surprise invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican next month to pray for peace. The invitation was a dramatic — but very Franciscan — initiative that confirmed that the pope who named himself after the peace-loving St. Francis of Assisi feels free and even obliged to pursue any initiative that might benefit peace. Francis made a similar foray into world diplomacy last year when he rallied millions of people to fast and pray for a peaceful resolution to threatened U.S.-led military strikes on Syria. More recently, the Vatican has intervened directly in Venezuela’s unrest by participating in talks between the government and the opposition. In the case of the Vatican prayer meeting, Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres readily accepted the invitation, and Peres and Francis discussed the encounter during a lengthy meeting at the president’s office. “The humility in your nature and the power in your spirit raised a spiritual elation and a thirst for peace,” Peres told him at a ceremony in the garden of the presidential residence. The prospects of a breakthrough at the Vatican meeting next month are slim. Peres, a 90-year-old Nobel peace laureate, holds a largely ceremonial office and is set to step down this summer. But the pope’s gesture seemed to send a powerful message to the region’s leaders not to give up, weeks after the latest round of peace talks collapsed. After Francis made an unscheduled stop at the massive concrete barrier on Sunday, Netanyahu asked Francis to deviate from his whirlwind itinerary to pray at Jerusalem’s Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial, which includes the names of hundreds of civilians killed in Palestinian and Arab attacks since 1851, Lombardi and Netanyahu’s office said. As he did at the separation barrier and the Western Wall, Francis bowed his head in prayer and placed his hand on the stone. Lombardi said he then delivered a sweeping denunciation of terrorism in all its forms. At Yad Vashem, the pope prayed before a crypt with ashes of Holocaust victims and laid a wreath of yellow and white flowers in the “Hall of Remembrance.”  Upon his arrival in Israel after visiting the West Bank, Francis clearly condemned the slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, making up for what many Jews felt was a tepid speech from the German Pope Benedict XVI during his 2009 visit to Yad Vashem. On Monday, his actions almost spoke louder than his words. In one of the most poignant moments of the trip, Francis kissed the hands of six Holocaust survivors as he heard their stories.
“Never again, Lord, never again!” Francis said. “Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man — created in your own image and likeness — was capable of doing.” He repeated that phrase in writing in the memorial’s guest book.
The Language of Jesus
Aramaic appeared in the 10th century BCE and by the 5th century, it had become the major language in the Near East, spoken and written from Egypt to India. In Eretz Israel, Hebrew was still spoken in a late dialect which would survive until approximately the end of the 2nd century CE. However, the language that was spoken by most of the population was a dialect of Aramaic known as Western Aramaic. From what we know, in Galilee towards the end of the Second Temple Period, the only language spoken by the Jews was Aramaic, with Hebrew being preserved at the time only in the southern area of Judea. Thus, it safe to assume that the language of Jesus was Aramaic.  Aramaic remained the language of the Jewish and later Christian population of Eretz Israel during the Byzantine and later Muslim Periods, although it began steadily losing ground to Arabic. From the 6th century on, we have a large number of Christian texts written in Aramaic from Eretz Israel for the use of the Aramaic-speaking Christian community, which continued to exist until late into the Middle Ages. Aramaic in the dialect called Syriac has remained to this day the language of prayer for millions of Christians both in the Middle East and in the Diaspora, although in its spoken versions it is unfortunately fighting an uphill battle. Pilgrims to Israel can become better acquainted with this ancient language by visiting masses celebrated by the the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church and the Maronites.
Prof. Michael Sokoloff
Sudanese Christian women faces martyrdom!
The pregnant Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith has been spending her days shackled in prison, according to her husband. Meriam Ibrahim, 26, who is eight months pregnant, was sentenced to death last Thursday after being convicted of apostasy. The court in Khartoum delayed carrying out the ruling until Ibrahim gives birth and nurses her newborn. In the interim, she has been spending her days bound with shackles on her legs according to her husband, U.S. citizen Daniel Wani, a Christian, who was able to visit his wife for the first time on Monday. “He originally was not allowed to see her until this week,” Tina Ramirez, executive director of Hardwired, a U.S.-based advocacy group against religious persecution, told FoxNews.com. “Once he was able to, she was shackled and her legs were swollen.” Ramirez added that Ibrahim’s attorney is working on an appeal as international outrage over her persecution grows. In addition, a statement from several attorneys associated with the Sudanese high court was released Monday, calling for an appeal of Ibrahim’s death sentence. “The [Sudanese] government is afraid of the international attention,” Ramirez said. “They are paying attention and this [statement] is a sign of that.” Ibrahim and Wani were married in a formal ceremony in 2011 and have an 18-month-old son, Martin, who is with her in jail. The couple operates several businesses, including a farm, south of Khartoum, the country’s capital. Wani fled to the United States as a child to escape the civil war in southern Sudan, but later returned. He is not permitted to have custody of his son because the boy is considered Muslim and cannot be raised by a Christian man. Ibrahim’s case first came to the attention of authorities in August, after members of her father’s family complained that she was born a Muslim but married a Christian man. The relatives claimed her birth name was “Afdal” before she changed it to Meriam and produced a document that indicated she was given a Muslim name at birth. Her attorney has alleged the document was a fake. Ibrahim was initially charged with having illegitimate sex last year, but she remained free pending trial. She was later charged with apostasy and jailed in February after she declared in court that Christianity was the only religion she knew. “I was never a Muslim,” she told the Sudanese high court. “I was raised a Christian from the start.”
Sudan’s penal code criminalizes the conversion of Muslims to other religions, which is punishable by death. Muslim women in Sudan are further prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, although Muslim men are permitted to marry outside their faith. Children, by law, must follow their father’s religion.
This is a story from Fox News-and notice that they leave out an important point-THE REASON THIS IS THE CASE-IS THAT SUDANESE LAWS CONFORM WITH Islamic-Koranic SHARIA LAW.
Francis in Bethlehem: Will pope hear about abuse of Palestinian Christians?
Published May 23, 2014
On Sunday and Monday, May 25 and 26, Pope Francis will visit the Palestinian Territories and Israel during his first papal trip to the Holy Land. His Holiness will spend much of Sunday in Bethlehem, where roads have been repaired, flags raised, marching bands rehearsed, graffiti painted over, and security preparations cautiously organized. The public will welcome the pope to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, where he’ll celebrate Mass at 11 am. His arrival will be greeted with jubilant throngs of ordinary locals who long for a word of blessing and a promise of peace. But what will the pope learn in Bethlehem? In a scheduled meeting with the Palestinian Authority, he will doubtless hear from local politicians that the ancient city is suffering economically because of the Israeli security fence – in some places a wall – surrounding it. He is scheduled to meet Palestinian children at the Dehaishe refugee camp. He will most certainly receive complaints about the “occupation.” But which occupation? For centuries, Bethlehem was a Christian city, with believers comprising around 80% of the population as recently as 50 years ago. Today, however, it is less than 15% Christian, and that number continues to dwindle. Bethlehem is increasingly occupied by Muslims, some of whom exert great pressure on their Christian neighbors.  Since the Oslo Accords, it’s been the unspoken rule that “what happens to Christians in Bethlehem stays in Bethlehem.” That is beginning to change, however, thanks to young, courageous Christians like Christy Anastas. In a hard-hitting video released in April, Christy described what life was like for her and her Christian family in Bethlehem, and why she has begun to speak out against the multiple injustices, lack of free speech and abuse of women in her hometown. “Breaking through the silence and fear faced by so many Palestinians,” Luke Moon reported, “Christy described how her uncle, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem, had to pay the al-jizyah, protection money that is often levied against non-Muslims. After some time her uncle refused to pay…. Because of his refusal to pay up he was murdered in front of his house.” Christy even dared to say that if she had been Israel’s Prime Minister during the 2nd Intifada, she too would have put up a security barrier to stop the suicide bombings. This is especially poignant, because her family home is surrounded by the wall – on three sides. Her story is alarming – she has received political asylum in Britain because of death threats from one of her own family members; others have disowned her. During a recent interview, I found Christy to be not only brave and eloquent, but utterly convincing. And now, perhaps thanks to her courage, others are also speaking out. Recently a young Bethlehem man – who will remain unnamed – told me about an attack on a Christian church. I passed it on to Dexter VanZile, who posted the story for “A Bethlehem Greek Orthodox Church (St. George's Church -- Khadar -- near Beit Jala) was attacked by Muslims during its annual St. George's Day services on May 6. ... Some local Muslims either tried to park a car too close the church and/or tried to enter the church during a service honoring St. George -- the initial instigation isn't clear. …Several then started throwing stones at the church.” Windows were broken, one worshipper was stabbed, and several others were injured. We later learned later that a young man’s face was badly beaten, requiring two surgeries. And as a smart-phone video revealed, the police didn’t arrive promptly enough to prevent damage, injuries and terror. Those aren’t the only stories. Now that the silence has been broken, reports abound about confiscated Christian property, honor killings and sexual molestation. Will the pope hear about these abuses against Christians? VanZile, who is Catholic, is doubtful. “The pope’s trip to Bethlehem highlights the bind Christians are in. If he doesn’t go, he misses an opportunity to show people how important the city is to Christians world wide. But when he does go, his presence will be used to score propaganda points to demonstrate just how wonderful Christians have it under the PA. “It’s just a mess. It’s an open scandal and everyone knows it, but no one can really talk about it.” Since it’s unlikely that Pope Francis will hear candid reports from local Christians during his rather formal visit to Bethlehem, I asked Christy Anastas what she would say to him if she had the opportunity. In her response, she surely speaks for countless others.  “I would ask the pope to recognize that the Palestinian Christians are caught between a rock and a hard place. Their problems are compounded because people only focus on the rock, Israel, but ignore the hidden injustices of the hard place – the Palestinian territories. These territories are increasingly being impacted by radical Islamists, whose ideologies are similar to those of Hamas....The pope must look at regional trends [such as Syria, Egypt and Iraq] and understand that the West Bank is just one small step away from replicating these.”
Lela Gilbert is author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner" and co-author, with Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, of "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians." She is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and lives in Jerusalem. For more, visit her website: www.lelagilbert.com. Follow her on Twitter@lelagilbert
Iraqi Christians attend an Easter worship service at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baghdad, April 20.
The edge of extinction
Iraq | The numbers say Christians may soon be no more in the Middle East, but the beleaguered churches in Baghdad are fighting risk with resilience
BAGHDAD—Sunday morning dawns bright, glaring bright, at St. George’s Church in Baghdad. In April daytime temperatures regularly climb to 100 degrees, but mornings and evenings are on the cool side, the air breezy and soft. Outside the church a rose garden is in full bloom—red, coral, yellow, white, and pink blossoms massed in border shrubs. Along one side of the garden is nothing but hedge, a thick, high wall of green giving a little shade and relief in the late afternoon. You have to stand close to see that the hedge is hiding a blast wall—concrete about 6 inches thick and 12 feet high runs the perimeter of the church property.  The front steps of St. George’s used to open onto a two-lane street with steady but subdued traffic in an area of government buildings. Anyone was welcome to enjoy the garden. That all changed when suicide bombers and insurgent fighters began targeting St. George’s and other churches in Baghdad shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
In 2005 five members of the church leadership disappeared—all presumed killed returning by car across the desert from a pastors’ meeting in Amman, Jordan. Bombings and rocket launches by terrorists multiplied—in 2005, 2007, and notably in 2009, when a bomb detonated near the church killed 100, injured hundreds more, and damaged every building on the property. To survive, St. George’s today sits surrounded by the concrete blast walls, and two checkpoints manned by a swarm of Iraqi soldiers have to be navigated before arriving at a fortified gate that can only be opened from the inside.  When U.S. troops made their final withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, many Americans thought the war had ended. But for most Iraqis, the terror that began with the U.S. arrival in 2003 has never stopped. Civilian deaths, in fact, currently are running at their highest level since the height of the U.S.-led war. The UN reported 8,868 casualties from insurgent-led attacks in 2013, the highest death toll since 2008. Sadly, the 2014 toll is keeping pace, with over 2,200 deaths reported in the first three months of the year.  The run-up to Iraq’s first national election following the U.S. withdrawal, scheduled for April 30, coincided with new aggression from foreign fighters spilling from neighboring Syria. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the new brand of al-Qaeda in Iraq, took over the city of Fallujah in January, and by April was making gains against Iraqi forces in Ramadi, just 80 miles from Baghdad. Overall, disgruntled Sunni militants are determined to undermine the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Christians continue to be targets. Three bombs on Christmas Day 2013 targeted Christian neighborhoods and a church in Baghdad, killing 37 and wounding 59. This year a car bomb near St. George’s in February killed two close associates of the church, shopkeepers who helped with supplies. Also that month, a car bombing along a main thoroughfare in central Baghdad’s Karada district killed a man who had attended the church, along with three others.  “We are all in such a desperate situation and all we have is our Lord and each other,” said Canon Andrew White, the British clergyman at St. George’s who improbably has come to be known as “the vicar of Baghdad.”  WHITE, WHO TURNS 50 this year, towers over the Iraqis he serves at 6 feet 3 inches and in size 16 shoes—yet he approaches his parishioners like a teddy bear. Children especially, but women and men also, get hugs as he greets each at the church doorway.  The mutual affection is surprising, considering that White does not speak Arabic. Communication happens through a translator, apart from what few greetings he manages in Arabic, plus prayers White can recite along with the congregation in Aramaic (not only the language of Jesus Christ but also the language of the Assyrians who made up Iraq’s earliest Christian community). With enthusiasm White tells the congregation the first Sunday in April, after several weeks of traveling overseas, “You are my people, in my beloved Iraq, and I am so glad to be back with you.”  Given the risks outside St. George’s blast walls, what’s surprising also is to see Iraqis arriving at the church by busloads for a Sunday afternoon worship service. Sunday in Baghdad is a workday, and most churches hold services at 5 p.m. The congregants stream in from neighborhoods nearby and across the Tigris River. Men talk on the sidewalk leading into the sanctuary, while women gather in knots of conversation in the rose garden, some in dark head coverings, Muslims who’ve come to collect a food ration but will hear what’s being taught at St. George’s along the way.
The Siege of Mosul: What’s happening? Why is it significant?
By Laura Smith-Spark and Nic Robertson, CNN
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
(CNN) -- For a while, Iraq faded from the collective consciousness. But what happened there Tuesday should make people sit up and take notice.
Extremist militants have overrun the northern city of Mosul, the country's second-largest. As many as half a million civilians have fled their homes to escape the violence, and the brazen incursion has highlighted all the weaknesses of the government's ability to maintain security.
Here's how things got to this point.
So, what happened?
Monday night into Tuesday, militants seized Mosul's airport, its TV stations and the governor's office. They freed up to 1,000 prisoners.
Police and soldiers ran from their posts rather than put up a fight, abandoning their weapons as they went. The militants took their place in the city's boulevards and buildings.
"There was no presence of any government forces on the streets, the majority of their posts destroyed and manned by (Islamist militants)," resident Firas al-Maslawi told CNN.
Why is this significant?
Mosul is the nation's second-largest city. What's happening here doesn't bode well for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's administration. It calls into question whether he has a handle on the country.
The devastating militant advance, which had been building for some time, is proving an object lesson of much that is wrong in Iraq and the region -- growing sectarian tensions at home and a festering civil war over the border in Syria.
It also shows that the extremists are seeking to extend their influence and can strike swiftly and effectively against Iraq's American-trained security forces.
Who are the militants?
They're part of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, an al Qaeda splinter group. Here's how extreme the militant group is: Even al Qaeda has disowned it.
The Mosul siege has made ISIS the single most dangerous, destabilizing radical group in the region.
The group is also known by some as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Its members include Europeans as well as Chechens, Turks and many fighters from other Arab countries, some attracted by the conflict in Syria.
What do they want?
They want to establish an Islamic caliphate, or state, stretching across the region.
ISIS has begun imposing Sharia law in Syrian towns it controls, like Raqqa, forcing women to wear the full veil, or niqab, in public and banning music.
Have they made such incursions before?
Yes. In past months, they've wrested control of Iraqi cities like Falluja and parts of Ramadi from authorities, just as they've done with Syrian towns over the border.
Militants believed to be from ISIS have also taken control of two villages in Iraq's Kirkuk province and seized parts of the oil town of Baiji in Salaheddin province, authorities said.
Have they been able to keep their control?
Not really. Despite the territorial advances it has made in Sunni-dominated Anbar and Nineveh provinces, ISIS still has "significant weaknesses," a U.S. counterterrorism official says.
"It has shown little ability to govern effectively, is generally unpopular, and has no sway outside the Sunni community in either Iraq or Syria."
How is all this tied to Syria?
ISIS grew out of al Qaeda in Iraq. In the west of Iraq, its militants were responsible for killing and maiming many U.S. troops. In 2006, their commander -- the bloodthirsty Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- was killed in a U.S. strike.
In the years afterward, with American help, Iraqi tribal militias put the al Qaeda upstart on the defensive.
But when U.S. troops left, the extremist militants found new leadership, went to Syria, grew stronger and returned to Iraq, making military gains often off the backs of the foreign fighters drawn to Syria's conflict.
Now the group has footholds in both countries and is blamed for destabilizing both.
In Syria, where its forces have clashed with other Islamist groups, observers say the internecine fighting has played into the hands of Bashar al-Assad's regime by distracting rival factions from their campaign against the Syrian military.
What's the situation in Mosul right now?
More than 500,000 civilians have fled since the fighting started over the weekend, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The northern city's four main hospitals are inaccessible because of fighting, and some mosques have been converted to clinics, the IOM said.
There's a lack of drinking water in the western part of the city since the main water station for the area has been destroyed by bombing. Food is running low and few areas are receiving electricity, while fuel for generators is also running out.
What does this mean for Iraq?
While Iraq is plagued by multiple daily car bombings and suicide attacks, the sheer scale of the attack on Mosul -- and the brewing humanitarian crisis tied to it -- bodes ill for the country's stability.
According to the United Nations, last year was Iraq's most violent in five years, with more than 8,800 people killed, most of them civilians.
Already this year, almost half a million people have been displaced from their homes in central Anbar province by fighting between the same extremist group and government forces.
One major reason Mosul made headlines is how swiftly the city, to all intents and purposes, fell.
What does this mean for the United States and the West?
The last U.S. military forces left Iraq at the end of 2011, after nearly nine years of deadly and divisive war in the country.
Talks that might have allowed a continued major military presence broke down amid disputes about whether U.S. troops would be immune to prosecution by Iraqi authorities.
Iraq's security forces, trained by the United States at a cost of billions of dollars, have proved unable to dislodge the militants from strongholds in Anbar province and have now been routed in Mosul.
The result seems likely to be continued or growing instability in Iraq and the wider region.
This, at a time when the global economy is recovering, could have an unwelcome impact on oil markets.
There's also concern that foreign fighters with ISIS may go back to their native countries, in Europe and elsewhere, and carry out terror attacks there. That worry was heightened last month by the shooting deaths of four people at a Jewish Museum in Belgium; the suspect, according to French officials, recently spent a year in Syria and is a radicalized Islamist.
Don't feel helpless with the current situation befalling Assyrian Christians, there are many way you can help.
1. Pray - that God protects them from this evil and gives them strength and hope.
2. Donate - There are many christians organisations, NGOs helping the Christian Refugees.
3. Spread the news - Tell everyone about the situation, the more people know the plight of Assyrian Christians in Iraq the better.
4. Get online and spread the Message about the situation.
5. Tell you local government members, write letters, through social media, any means.
You can do all or many of the above, not doing anything does not help anyone!

No comments: