Is Russia a Surprise Ally in the Defense of Persecuted Christians?

Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, is paying a visit to the Pope.

According to Vatican Radio, this is the fourth time President Putin has visited the Vatican. He met twice with Pope John Paul II and once with Pope Benedict XVI.

President Putin, who is an Orthodox Christian, has said through his spokespeople that he and Pope Francis will focus on, among a couple of other things, “the protection of Christian minorities in the Maghreb and the Middle East.”

From QuestionMore.Live:

Hopes were high for warmer relations between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches as President Vladimir Putin flew Monday to Rome for his first audience with Pope Francis. Topping the agenda is likely help for Christians in the Middle East.

Putin, an Orthodox Christian, has repeatedly said that he is a man of faith and his administration has consistently sought closer ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.

His policies “have brought religion to the forefront and triggered positive change in ecumenical relations,” said Natalya Pecherskaya, rector of the St. Petersburg School of Religion and Philosophy.

But state interests will come first on the visit, officials said.

“Putin will be meeting Pope Francis as the president of Russia, and then only secondly as a Russian Orthodox [Christian],” said Father Kirill Gorbunov, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow.

As well as his visit with the Holy Father in the Vatican, Putin will meet with Italian president Giorgio Napolitano and Romano Prodi, the country’s former premier and a special UN representative, in Rome. On Tuesday, Putin will travel to Trieste for talks with the Italian government.

The Kremlin announced ahead of the visit that Putin and Pope Francis would focus on the state of international institutions and their ability to respond to crises, as well as the protection of Christian minorities in the Maghreb and the Middle East.

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Is Christ Real to You?

Today is Epiphany. 

This feast celebrates the time when the wise men found the Christ child and offered him gifts in homage to his divinity. That is why we call it The Epiphany. Epiphany means the revelation of a divine being. In this case, it is the revelation of the divine being: God made human in the form of a baby.

The wise men, with their gifts and their homage, acknowledged this. Their action has become a symbol for more than just their own acknowledgment of Him. It also indicates what was to follow when all people, from all places, in all times, would do the same. In this sense, the wise men are you and me, the gentiles who no longer must stand outside the circle of the chosen people in their communion with God, but who, through the life and death of this baby, may enter in.

We also are chosen, along with the whole human race.

The Epiphany is the feast that memorializes the first understanding and acknowledgement of the divine being by people who were not Jews. It may also be the first time anyone besides probably Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, looked at Him and knew Who He was.

The question for us in this fracturing world of ours is do we know Who He is? Do we acknowledge Him? Are we aware that He is the divine being Who is our salvation and our only hope?

Homage for us is not gifts of precious items. Our gift is, as the Psalmist says, “a broken and contrite heart.” Our homage is fidelity and devotion to Him in the face of a world that is increasingly hostile to those who refuse to deny him by the things they do and say.

Is Christ real to you on this Epiphany Sunday? Will you stand for Him in the months ahead?

It is The Epiphany, the twelfth and last day of Christmas in this liturgical year. Will you live for Him the rest of this Year of Faith?

Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.

Christian Persecution: The Not-So-Merry Christmas of Persecuted Christians

The angel of the Lord woke Joseph with a dream, instructing him to take Mary and the baby Jesus into hiding. This warning saved the infant Messiah from the slaughter of little boys that we remember as the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Many present-day Christians must re-live this terror with more than memorials. Violent Christian persecution ramped up in several places this Christmas. Then and now, the devil tries to stamp out our witness to Christ with murder. And now as then, wise men still seek Him.

Here is a brief summary of some of the acts of violent persecution Christians have suffered so far this Christmas season.

 

DOZENS OF CHRISTIANS SHOT AND SLAUGHTERED IN CHRISTMAS ATTACKS IN NIGERIA

NIGERIA
Dozens of Christians were killed during church services over the Christmas period in Northern Nigeria; others were murdered in their homes in raids by suspected Boko Haram militants.

Most of the attacks took place in Borno state; Islamist group Boko Haram had earlier declared that any Christians remaining in the territory by Christmas would be killed. Although it has not been confirmed who was behind the violence, it seems likely that the militants were carrying out this threat.

On Christmas Eve, six people were killed by gunmen at a church service in Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno state.

Another six were killed and two injured in a shooting at a church service in the early hours of Christmas Day in Siri village, near Potiskum, Yobe State. Gunmen entered the midnight service and attacked the congregation; the Rev. Yohanna Simi was among those killed.

Many residents fled Siri village to the bush during the attack. Around 20 homes and the church where the shooting had taken place were torched.

Then on Sunday (30 December), gunmen killed at least 15 worshippers at a church in Chibok, Borno state. Mohammed Kana, a regional official for the National Emergency Management Agency, said that some of the victims had had their throats slit.

It is the third consecutive year of fatal attacks on services during the Christmas season in Nigeria. (Read more here.)

TANZANIA: CHURCH LEADER INJURED IN CHRISTMAS DAY SHOOTING BY SUSPECTED ISLAMISTS

A church leader was critically wounded in a Christmas Day shooting by suspected Islamist separatists in Zanzibar.
The Rev. Ambrose Mkenda was shot in the face and shoulder by two attackers on a motorcycle. The shooting took place as the church leader returned to his home in Tomondo just before 8pm. He was rushed to hospital and later transferred to intensive care as his condition deteriorated.(Read more here.)

IRAN: 50 CHRISTIANS ARRESTED AT HOUSE CHURCH GATHERING

Around 50 Christians, mostly converts from Islam, were arrested at a house church Christmas gathering in Tehran.
The raid by 15 police and security agents happened on 27 December. The Christians had to hand over their mobile phones and personal information, including passwords to their email and social media accounts, and explain how they had come to accept Christianity. (Read more here.)

INDONESIA: ROTTEN EGGS, DUNG AND URINE THROWN AT CONGREGATION DURING CHRISTMAS EVE EVENT

Members of Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) came under attack by Muslims as they gathered in the open for a Christmas Eve service.
The assailants threw rotten eggs, dung and plastic bags full of urine at the congregation of around 200 people. HKBP had been subjected to a similar assault in May.
On Christmas Eve, the congregation gathered for a service in front of its property in Bekasi, West Java, which has been sealed off by the authorities. It was forced to flee and hold the service in the compound of a police station.
HKBP has been denied a building permit despite a Supreme Court ruling that one be granted and the site reopened. (Read more here.)

Jesus was There

I attended mass on Christmas Eve.

There may have been liturgical abuses, were, in fact, according to several articles I’ve read this week by prominent Catholics.

These people evidently bring a spreadsheet to mass so they can tally all the disrupting liturgical abuses they find there. I don’t know how they have time to worship during all the liturgical-abuse minding they must do. I would imagine that a priest, on seeing one of these folks enter his church, must feel the same anxiety that a young bride feels when her mother-in-law comes to call.

It would be difficult to get on the right side of parishioners like these. One of the sadnesses of these articles is that they find such a ready audience among people who evidently go to mass to carp rather than to pray.

Let my tell you what I found at my church on Christmas Eve.

I saw a church that was packed to overflowing with people of every description. There was the rail-thin gay man who almost certainly is suffering with HIV, the odd-looking transexual whose bulging forearms belie the surgeon’s work, the families with screaming babies, the elderly ladies who sat behind me and gabbled their way through the mass, the deaf man who sat next to me and watched intently but never spoke, the young man with gang insignia on his arms, the young police officer who was injured in the line of duty and was never supposed to walk again but who walked, albeit slowly, into church that night. There were pillars of the community and illegal immigrants, packed into the pews together. Last, but not least, there was me and mine.

We (shudder) held hands during the our father, (gasp) applauded the folks who’d spent hours decorating the church and (can you believe this) got up after mass and talked to one another on our way out of the sanctuary.

It was enough to make a liturgical abuse cop foam at the mouth and fall over in a dead faint.

But do you know who else was there?

Jesus was there.

He was there in the eucharist. He was there in the tired, screaming babies, the gabbling ladies, the odd-looking transsexual, the deaf man who couldn’t hear the mass but felt it anyway, the sad, tired HIV sufferer, the miraculously walking police officer and all the chitter-chattering celebrants as they exited to the Narthex. He was there in the priest whose lunch I once interrupted with a call when my mother was ill, and who came immediately to the hospital.

He was there when we held hands during the Our Father, during the applause and the Christmas carols. He was there in the faith and trust of people who don’t give a care about liturgical abuses but who left their homes on a blustery Christmas Eve to go be together before the Lord because they know He is real, He is present and when they enter that sanctuary, He is there.

These are people who have followed Jesus across the rocky landscapes of their rocky lives. They’ve walked with Him through death, life and everything in between. Some of them had walked right over drug addiction, sexual disorders, terrible injuries, loneliness and fear to be there with Him. We are all riddled with sins, failings, weaknesses and shame. That is our condition. And that is why when we walk into a Catholic Church, we are not searching for liturgical abuses and laundry lists of petty crimes and misdemeanors to assure ourselves of our righteousness. We know that our righteousness resides behind that altar, in the tabernacle, because He is there.

I went to mass Christmas Eve. I didn’t go in search of liturgical perfection. I also didn’t go in search of abuses that I could call out and feel self-righteous about. I went because Jesus is there, and He alone has the words that lead to eternal life. I went to be with my Lord.

And I found Him. Because He was there.

Illegal Immigrants, Puppet Kings, Mass Murder and Peace Wrapped in Thorns

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents.

It commemorates the terrible slaughter of little boys under two years of age by King Herod. Herod was trying to kill the newborn King of the Jews, the Messiah, because he mistakenly thought that this baby king would one day try to overtake his throne.

Herod was a puppet king, put in place by the Romans to hold things together in what was a little corner of their empire. But even though Israel was small, it held an important place along the trade routes linking Egypt and Rome. Egypt at that time was the breadbasket of the world.

So, uprisings and troubles in this area could not be ignored. They had to be put down.

Much of the history of the New Testament, including the eventual crucifixion of Our Lord, turns on this fact.

Herod was a placeholder. His purpose in the Roman scheme of things was to keep the order in that tiny kingdom of his. He was charged with keeping things calm, collecting taxes and making sure that the trade routes stayed open. If he needed to kill people to accomplish this, he was free to do so.

Herod sat on a wobbly throne. He was subject to the Romans above and threatened by the religious zealots and restless populace below. Since he had Jewish inclinations of his own, he understood the power of the prophesied Messiah on the popular imagination. People were waiting for a warrior king who would free Israel and restore it to glory. Tales of the Maccabean revolts still resonated. It all seemed possible to a puppet king.

When three men from the East dropped by, asking directions to the new born king, that gave what was probably Herod’s always-ready paranoia a new target. Somewhere out there in the little town of Bethlehem his future nemesis was growing up.

After the men who were searching for the baby failed to return to Herod and tell him where this child was, Herod moved to a simpler, more expedient method of eliminating the risk. He ordered the murder of every baby boy under the age of two.

Jesus was wholly human as well as wholly God. Like us, he was born to die. But not then. His time was years in the future. So, God sent an angel to Jesus’ step-father in a dream to tell him to take Mary and the baby Jesus away from there.

I’ve always found it significant that the angel did not come to Mary. Joseph was the protector of that little family. The angel came to him.

And, like good fathers everywhere, he accepted the responsibility of taking care of his family.

Joseph took his wife and baby into exile in Egypt where they stayed for what sounds like a few years. The little boy Jesus and His mother and father learned what it means to be strangers in a strange land. They were refugees, illegal immigrants, alone in a land that did not share their heritage or their faith.

This is a sad tale, a hard beginning to the life that would change the world forever. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were a family facing hardship, hard times, and a struggle for survival just like families have always faced these things: Together.

“My peace I give you,” Jesus would later say. “Peace of Christ,” we say to one another. “The peace that passes all understanding,” Paul described it to us.

Peace.

But like everything thing else about this story, this peace comes wrapped in a crown of thorns.

Message to Starbucks from a reader

Public Catholic reader Peg Demetris, who blogs at Peg Pondering Again, responded to one of the posts I put up this morning with a much better idea of her own.

Starbucks is asking their employees for write “Come together” on cups they give their customers in the Washington, DC area. This is in reference to the deadlock over the fiscal cliff between President Obama and Congress. Peg thought of the idea of pro life people writing “Stop Funding Abortion” on paper cups and taking them to Starbucks to leave on the counter.

I was not aware of this, but Peg says that Starbucks donates money to Planned Parenthood.

Here, in it’s entirety, is Peg’s post about this from her blog, Peg Pondering Again. Reprinted with permission.

Holy Innocents Pledge


An article came out today Starbucks to Politicians: Come Together in which Starbucks will be writing “Come Together” on all cups of coffee sold on Thursday and Friday. According to Starbucks, the words are intended as a message to lawmakers about the damage being caused by the divisive negotiations over the “fiscal cliff.”

Taking into account Starbucks is a financial contributor to Planned Parenthood, I propose we all stop drinking their coffee and send a message ourselves. Tomorrow is the Massacre of the Innocents. Rather then buy a cup, place a cup of water, representing the tears of all who regret their abortions on their counter, with the words “STOP FUNDING ABORTION”. Just an idea that came quickly from our Lord today, after reading the articles on Facebook. Glory to God.

O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed on this day, not by speaking but by dying, grant, we pray, that the faith in your which we confess with our lips may also speak through our manner of life. Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever, and ever. Amen

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

How Beautiful

is the Body of Christ

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The Soldier and the Christmas Card

Two battle-weary Leathernecks of the 26th Marine Regiment take a break in the rain during Operation Bold Mariner in Vietnam in 1969. It was in these conditions a year later that a young man named Jack would receive a Christmas card from a Southern Baptist church. Photo courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Photo Terms of Use

COLEMAN, Ga. (BP) — It was a Christmas season that the 18-year-old Marine would rather not experience. Slogging through the mud in the drizzling, never-ending rain was beginning to wear on the enlisted man’s spirit.

Sleeping on the ground without a bath for months with a stubbly beard growing from not shaving in the winter cold was not his idea of a holiday. He had fond recent memories of Christmas in Greenville, S.C., still fresh from his boyhood days. His grandmother’s Christmas ham and visits with family and friends are what he missed the most.

There would be none of that this year. In fact, he was grateful just to be alive.

What made it worse was being part of a squadron chosen to provide security for the annual USO Christmas program. It just didn’t seem fair.

While thousands enjoyed plenty of Christmas cheer and entertainment, he and his buddies silently guarded a nearly 12-mile arc around Da Nang in South Vietnam.

Their mission was crucial to the enjoyment of fellow soldiers. Several thousand troops enjoying a holiday celebration would be an easy target for North Vietnamese troops slipping through the jungles.

For the teenage soldier, this day was just another in a string of cold, overcast winter days. The day is a memory now. A story he tells. For this telling, he prefers to be known only by his first name, Jack

“We were angry, hungry, wet and scared most of the time,” he said. “Our job was to stay alert and patrol to keep the enemy from infiltrating the area and disrupting the show. Needless to say, we weren’t very happy.”

Jack said he and his fellow soldiers spent most of their time “griping, as young Marines are prone to do, about our bad luck. It had rained for what seemed like weeks and was constantly low overcast.”

Dark and gray and miserable. Not an ideal Christmas. Certainly not when it was going to be his first Christmas away from home. (Read more here.)

The Greatest Gift …

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

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