Posted by: Fr Chris | March 16, 2018

Blessed Torello of Poppi – March 16

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This life reads like that of an Eastern anchorite! This Italian man was prompted by a most unusual event to withdraw into the mountains of Italy and live as a hermit. He achieved not only great holiness, but wolves responded to his prayers, like Saint Francis, his patron.

Born 1202 in the Tuscan town of Poppi, Blessed Torell of Poppi came from the noble family of Torelli. When he lost his parents at the age of eighteen, he was thinking of devoting himself to the service of God and gave generous alms to the poor. But he had two bad friends and was soon corrupted by their example and influence, so that he became the scandal of the town. One day, when he was about thirty-six years old, Blessed Torello of Poppi was amusing himself with his associates at the game of bowling. During the game a rooster perched on his arm and crowed three times. Torello took this as a warning from heaven, deserted his friends without delay, and went to confession to a priest at the abbey of San Fedele, one of the houses of the Vallombrosan Benedictines. He later joined the Third Order of Saint Francis.

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After purchasing the land around this cave and giving what remained of his property to the poor, he built a little hermitage at the cave and cultivated a small vegetable garden to provide himself with food. But he ate very little and fasted for days at a time. He limited his sleep to three hours daily, and slept on a bed of brushwood and thorny twigs. To overcome the persistent temptations of the flesh and the devil, he scourged himself unmercifully and sometimes immersed himself in freezing water.

Like St Francis, he possessed a supernatural power over the wolves, of whom there were many in the Casentino mountains during the thirteenth century. He worked several miracles in behalf of children who were carried off by wolves, and for others who were attacked and bitten by wolves, both before and after his death. When he was eighty years old, Blessed Torello went back to the abbey of San Fedele to make a general confession of his whole life and to ask that his body be buried at the abbey. He died this day in 1282 while he was at prayer.                  – edited from: The Franciscan Book Of Saints, ed. by Marion Habig, OFM

A question for us: Torello was moved to repentance by the striking event of the rooster crowing three times, as it did for Saint Peter during the Passion of Christ. So what will it take to move us to permanent repentance over our habitual sins?  The Crucifix? Good Friday? The stillness of the tomb on Holy Saturday? Without repentance and conversion, the celebrations of Easter Sunday will be empty. 

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Sweden still flies the cross on its flag, but fails to protect those mocked as “worshippers of the Cross” by jihadist Muslims in its own country. 
Sweden Refuses to Investigate Muslim Attacks Against Christian Refugees
By Tyler O’Neil

As Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees seek and find asylum in Europe, they bring their religious tensions and persecution with them. Specifically, Muslim migrants often persecute Christian migrants, or immigrants who converted to Christianity. Open Doors Deutschland documented 743 attacks on Christians in Germany in 2016, and German police documented another 100 in 2017. Similar violence plagues Christian refugees in Sweden, but the Scandinavian country has yet to issue an investigation.

“I fled the war to avoid this kind of thing,” a Christian refugee from Syria known by the alias Amir, told police, according a local newspaper in 2015. A 26-year-old jihadist and fellow Syrian refugee threatened to “slaughter” Amir, cut his throat, and even harm his family back in Syria. The man who threatened him was eventually sentenced to probation and fined 8,000 kronor (approximately $900) in damages.

A survey published by Open Doors Sweden last year found that Amir is far from alone. One hundred and twenty-three Christian asylum-seekers reported religiously motivated persecution, and 512 separate incidents. Christian refugees received 65 violent assaults, 55 death threats, 7 cases of sexual assault, along with instances of social exclusion, insults, contempt, and threats. More than half, 53 percent, said they had been violently attacked at least once. Almost half, 45 percent, reported receiving at least one death threat.

More than three-quarters of those who faced such persecution were converts to Christianity, and almost all of the perpetrators were Muslim. Other refugees or immigrants carried out more than four-in-five (81 percent) of the attacks, 415 out of 512. The most popular solution suggested by victims? Separate housing for Christian and Muslim immigrants. “One time they told my daughter that she was not allowed to eat in the canteen without wearing a headscarf, if she wanted to keep her head,” one of the survey participants told Open Doors. “Another time, they told my son that he was not allowed to have a visible cross around his neck if he wanted to remain in one piece.”

Survey participants reported that perpetrators had been hired by the Swedish Migration Agency or the refugee home. “When only the Muslim staff was working at the refugee shelter, they looked at me strangely, treated me unfairly, spread lies, mocked me, and excluded me,” one Christian migrant said. “This spread to the entire staff. Even the manager of the refugee shelter was one of those who bullied me.”

In an article for National Review, Jacob Rudenstrand, deputy general secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, and Peter Paulsson, director of Open Doors Sweden, lamented that “the reaction both in the media and from government officials have been cool.”

His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf - today received the Patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church - His Bliss Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Yonan who is visiting Apostolic visit to Sweden and visits Syrians belonging to the Syrian Catholic Church.  -------------------------------------------------- - His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf Received His Beatitude Ignatius Joseph III Yonan - Patriarch of Antioch and all the East for the Syriac Catholic Church at the royal castle in Stockholm today.

Syriac Catholic patriarch and bishops with King Carl XVI Gustaf

“Despite news reports of such attacks against Christians, Sweden’s government has launched no serious investigation,” Rudenstrand and Paulsson reported. “There are many studies focusing on hate crimes against Jews and Muslims in Sweden but few on hate crimes against Christians, even though statistics from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention show that police reports of the latter have risen in recent years.”

These incidents go beyond the Open Doors report. Last month, the Christian newspaper Världen idag reported that an asylum-seeker who had converted from Islam was attacked while leaving a Pentecostal church in Karlstad on February 11. In Stockholm, a new Christian convert was stabbed by fellow asylum-seekers on the same day he was to be baptized. He had recently begun wearing a cross.

Christians wearing crosses have been attacked and had their crosses ripped off by Islamists, the European Parliament reported in 2015. Rudenstrand and Paulsson confirmed this trend.

Terrifyingly, anti-Christian bias seems to have worked its way into the official government apparatus for refugees. The Swedish Migration Agency, which evaluates applications for residence and citizenship, has given Christian asylum-seekers pop quizzes on theology. These quizzes ask questions that many Swedish churchgoers would be unable to answer, and the testimony of churches and pastors is often dismissed outright.

Refugee challenges “include ensuring that Christians who were victims of genocide — a genocide that the government has refused to recognize — are not persecuted all over again after they resettle in their new country,” Rudenstrand and Paulsson wrote.

Perhaps Christians who faced persecution in the Middle East expected to find a haven from these struggles in historically Christian countries like Sweden — a country whose flag is literally in the shape of a cross. Tragically, evidence suggests refugees bring the religious battles and persecution — complete with violence, death threats, and sexual assault — with them as they move into Western societies.

This does not necessarily mean that Western countries should reject refugees, nor that all Muslims should be suspected of this kind of persecution. However, it does demonstrate that countries like Sweden need to defend the rights of persecuted Christians within their own society. Such governments need to stop ignoring the plight of the persecuted, even if they are Christians in a nominally Christian country.

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 7, 2018

Finding Our Way Back to God

Today the Byzantine Rite presents Genesis 9: 18-29 as the first of the two readings for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts which is offered tonight.

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In Genesis, the story of the flood differs from the pagan stories. In the Bible, God is angered by the moral failings of the people made “in our image” – they are not reflecting His image at all. God creates with wisdom and justice both – in the stories of the pagan gods of Mesopotamia, the gods create by trial and error. God makes concessions to the survivors after the flood – for the first time, He allows the killing of animals for food, but even so puts on restrictions that the Jews follow to this day. In last week and the readings from Genesis this week, God establishes a covenant of peace with the survivors and their descendants. Unfortunately in chapter 9 there is already a violation, showing just how much sin remains in fallen humanity as a result of the curse of original sin.

Noah is presented as the first person to make wine, and so he accidentally gets drunk and falls asleep. His son Ham finds him naked, and instead of covering him up, brings in his brothers to see the sight. In the Semitic world, and in all human cultures, nakedness was something to avoid – God provided Adam and Eve with coverings of animal skins, and people have dressed ever since in some clothing.

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Expulsion of Adam and Eve 

Not covering up his father’s accidental nakedness is serious disrespect for his father, a complete failure of piety and of the family structure, within weeks of their escape of disaster! Ham is presented as the father of the future residents of Canaan, and the Canaanite religion in the time of Moses, the Judges and Kings was filled with sexual liberties that violated God’s law. This offense by Ham is presented to us as the source of the Canaanites’ many sins against purity, family, and protection of human life that the Israelites would be confronted with and be tempted by. Indeed, even the wise Solomon fell into the sins of his pagan wives. Since Shem is presented as the ancestor of Israel, it is hinting to the later reader that this predicts Israel taking over the cursed descendants of Ham.

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Canaanite priest offers child sacrifice to the baal Molech 

The spiritual point of this passage is a profound one – the readings are structured so that particular passages fall on Wednesday and Friday evenings, the nights when the most people would attend Presanctified Liturgies in the Byzantine Empire. Wednesday is the day when Judas arranged his betrayal with the priests, Friday of course is the Crucifixion of Christ. So here is a strong reminder to everyone attending, down to our own time: nakedness is not something to be indulged, to be sought for. Nakedness is restricted to marriage – in the book of Leviticus, nudity is connected with marital relations between a husband and wife. Our culture today is simply SOAKED in the abuse of the gift of sexuality – little girls are beauty queens, men are shown on billboards wearing the briefest of underwear, young people are encouraged to have sexual hook ups as casual enjoyment, taking what is meant to unite a husband and wife and bring about children as something to have over and over with people that hardly even know each other.

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Giving of each other in Holy Matrimony 

Our culture in North America and Western Europe has lost its way so much. We are just a mess spiritually and psychologically, as everything from schools to media to internet gives the wrong messages to people. Let us pray tonight that we turn our backs on our own sins, like Shem and Japheth do with the blanket, that we pray for those who have lost their way – or worse, have never had moral and spiritual guidance, that all of us will turn our hearts to God in Whose image we have been made.

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 28, 2018

How much do we TRULY value our Faith?

In this article below, an Italian priest talks about meeting up with the few remaining native Catholics in Somalia. There used to be a large Catholic community there, not only Italians but converts as well with 8,500  Somali Catholics  in 1950. Now under Islamic fundamentalism, grandchildren of Catholics have murdered their own grandparents because they refused to join Islam. Grandchildren! Two Catholic converts were beheaded in 2011 and another in 2012. These old Catholics hunger to attend Mass and receive Communion, while 65% of US Catholics can’t be bothered to go regularly on Sundays. One-third of Americans are ex-Catholics! Come Holy Spirit and renew us!! 

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Mogadishu’s Catholic cathedral in happier days before the last bishop was murdered while offering Mass in 1989

A small community of Somali Christians lives their faith in hiding
Mogadishu (Agenzia Fides) – A small community of Somali Christians lives in Mogadishu. There are about thirty elderly people. They live hidden for fear of the reprisals of Islamic fundamentalists. But, they consider their faith as the most precious gift. Fr. Stefano Tollu, military Chaplain of the Italian contingent of Eutm Somalia, the formation and training mission financed by the European Union, managed to get in touch with one of them in recent days. A quick meeting, in order not to arouse suspicion and not to draw too much attention, but very intense and full of human and religious meanings.
“I had the opportunity to meet Moses (invented name, ed)”, says Father Tollu to Agenzia Fides, already a Salesian missionary, now a priest incardinated in the diocese of Faenza and serving in the Military Ordinariat for Italy. “He is a Christian who grew up in the reality of the Italian Protectorate and then in independent Somalia, still very tied to our country. Many consider him the spokesman of the Somali Catholics. He defines his community as endangered”.
In Somalia, a version of Sufi Islam has coexisted for centuries with other faiths. For the past twenty years, however, an intolerant version of the Koranic faith has taken hold. Al Qaeda and its local branch al Shabaab are a continuing threat both for non-fundamentalist Muslims and Christians. In recent months the Islamic State has also appeared in the country, which has created the first bases in Puntland.
However, the danger arrives even within the Christian families themselves. It is still Fr.Tollu who speaks: “Moses told me that ‘those born in the’ 90s, have become intolerant and do not understand their elders who profess Christianity. Therefore the elders flee, go away from their children and grandchildren”. Moses showed the Italian priest a list of Christians who died recently, some for natural causes, others for violent causes. “I promised him I would remember them in the Holy Mass” – said the Chaplain, recalling that, as reported by the Somali Christian, “some were killed by their children’s children”. “Violence is in homes and we, who are few, we risk our lives every day”, Moses told him. The few faithful Somali Catholics cannot have continuous spiritual assistance: “At the moment – concludes Father Tollu – there are no security conditions for a priest to carry out his pastoral service in Mogadishu peacefully. I hope that in the future, once the country has been freed from terrorist infiltration, it will be possible to recreate the minimum conditions for the Christian presence in the city. At the moment I promised to pray for them during Mass. We are united in daily prayer, we are brothers in Christ even if today they are forced to hide their faith”. (EC) (Agenzia Fides, 28/2/2018)I

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Mogadishu cathedral today after Islamic fundamentalists wrecked it in 2008. Today it is a food and medicine station for refugees, with a tent city on the grounds. The diocese planned to restore it in 2013 but the current news from there is very bad. 

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 21, 2018

Second Week of Great Lent

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Glory to Jesus Christ. For the rest of Lent, I will be posting some of my Lenten sermons here. Feel free to share: this is for the second Thursday

The lectionary, the cycle of readings, used in the Byzantine rite, both Orthodox and Catholic,  is ancient, and has not been changed in centuries – the Church set these readings up for the the evening Lenten services. There is a reason therefore that these readings fall on these nights: to speak to the congregation about very important messages from Scripture! This is from Thursday’s readings.

Adam and Eve have a 3rd child, Seth, since Abel was killed and Cain has gone elsewhere. Seth in Hebrew means to replace – he is more than that though. The gift God gave to humanity in Genesis 1:26-28 of being fruitful and multiplying, and also remaining the peak of God’s creative work, and being made in the image of God, is passed down through the line of Seth.

The numbers of years for people’s lives in the genealogy are not meant to be exact. In the ancient Near East, kings were said to have lived 36,000 years – obviously not true. They loved exaggeration, something common in Jesus’ time centuries later, and the point of those exaggerations was to say that the kings were awesome rulers. It was a common belief that the very ancient world was a time of giants, a time when life was on a larger scale than now, so the years were greater. But for the Jews, there is a limit – 1,000 years is divine perfection, and none of the descendants live that long. They come close, but never make it.

21: When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methu′selah. 22: Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methu′selah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters.  24: Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

Enoch: he lived righteously – despite the alienation of original sin, it is still possible to live according to God’s commandments. He does this so well that God “took” him – the same verb used for Elijah when he is taken away by God in Kings. The word is deliberately mysterious. If it was possible then to live in full righteousness, so well that God would want to have the soul live with Him, all the more so for us who have been given the fullness of revelation of Christ Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Glory, Whose passion and resurrection we are preparing for. If Enoch could live well in a time of increasing alienation from God’s ways, how can I do so now? Part of the answer comes in the 2nd reading, from Proverbs, chapter 6: 3-20, in verses 16-19.

There are six things which the Lord hates,  seven which are an abomination to him:      1 haughty eyes,  2 a lying tongue, 3  hands that shed innocent blood, 4  a heart that devises wicked plans, 5     feet that make haste to run to evil, 6  a false witness who breathes out lies, 7  and a man who sows discord among brothers.

Presuming none of us are killers of innocent blood – the other six unfortunately we can do, and do often: pride, lies, making up bad things to do, hurrying to commit sins, lying to the point of excluding any truth, and causing trouble. God HATES covering the truth with falsehoods and making trouble. That last one can be anything from children fighting over toys to Russian trolls creating fake news and other such folks who spread falsehoods.

I cannot tell you the number of times I get some message in email or on Facebook and I think “hmm, that can’t be true” and within five minutes of research I find out it is not true. Then when I post the truth, I get attacked. What is it with our modern society that it exults in spouting such nonsense? I read on the BBC website today that there are Americans already denouncing the teenagers who survived the massacre in Parkland, Florida, saying they are paid actors who travel from massacre to massacre and are paid by some secret government fund. Seriously? Who attacks children who just survived seeing their teachers and friends shot down in cold blood by a masked gunman? That is being someone who sows discord, and the bible clearly states that this is something that the Lord HATES.

Enoch walked with God, as Adam and Eve did in the cool of the evening in Paradise: that means that they lived in perfect harmony with God. Human beings are made for that: to walk with God in peace and unity NOW, on Earth. And the God Who HATES lies, evil, doing wicked things, working to create evil, is not going to want to walk with someone who does. This is the fierce warning given to us tonight as we now shift into the second part of the liturgy and prepare to receive the Sacred Body of Christ. It is meant to be a night of self-examination, and an opportunity to dedicate ourselves to truth, and to work so as to be a person who can walk with God, here and now.  Christ is among us.

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Posted by: Fr Chris | February 14, 2018

2,000 New Homes for Christians in Iraq

The money came from Aid to the Church in Need, not the US. Despite Vice-President Pence’s promise that we will be helping the neglected Christian population directly – since the UN only helps those in UN camps, whose populations are very hostile to Christian refugees – no American government funding has shown up yet.

Charity Gives Aid to Repair 2,000 Assyrian Homes in Iraq
By John Newton and Murcadha O Flaherty
Click on the link below to donate directly to A C N. 
Assyrian family in north Iraq. ( Aid to the Church in Need)

Christians forced out of their ancestral lands in northern Iraq are rejoicing after a leading Catholic charity announced an urgent injection of aid to rebuild an extra 2,000 homes.The US$5 million (£3.6 million) package from Aid to the Church in Need will support projects renovating 2,000 houses on the Nineveh Plains –1,500 in Qaraqosh and 500 in Bartella, Bashiqua and Bahzani.

ACN’s international executive president Baron Johannes von Heereman, who has met with displaced families in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil, stressed the urgent need to provide help.He said: “If we do not do everything in our power to support this first third of returning Christians, they will leave their towns again — and perhaps even the country — for good.”

ACN Middle East projects head Father Andrzej Halemba said he was encouraged that up to 35 percent of Iraq’s Christian had already returned to their homes.He said: “More than 30,000 Christians have in the meantime gone back to where they lived before the Islamist terrorist groups invaded.”However, their situations are anything but easy.”

Father Halemba said that Christians are facing high heating and electricity costs due to a severe winter. He added that although Daesh (ISIS) had been defeated in the region, their extremist ideas had taken root in some sections of society.

Rebuilding is being overseen by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), which was formed by the Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic Churches.Since it was set up in late March 2017, the NRC has rebuilt nearly 3,000 houses — with ACN providing support for the renovation of 784 homes. The latest aid package is a stopgap measure until more charities, governments and NGOs back the NRC scheme.

Assyrian family in north Iraq. ( Aid to the Church in Need)

Father Halemba said: “It will be possible to achieve the greater objective — namely, to restore 6,000 houses — only if we provide concrete aid together with other players and only if this region is not left to its own devices.“This would enable at least each second displaced person of the Christian minority to return.“Otherwise, we have to fear a reversal of the currently still tangible homecoming process.”

Father Halemba added that to keep people from emigrating from the area, further steps needed to be taken to ensure long-term security.Since 2014, when Daesh seized the Nineveh Plains, Aid to the Church in Need has provided more than US$40 million (£28 million) for Iraq’s Christians.

ACN provided nearly half of all emergency aid — food, medicine, shelter and schooling — for displaced families supported by the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil.Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has stated that his country needs more than US$97 billion (£70 billion) to fix crumbling infrastructure.There were more than 1 million Christians living in Iraq before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Numbers have declined to between 200,000 and 250,000 today.

My note: Muslim states without non-Muslim populations tend to veer into harsher interpretations of the Quran and Hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammed) and also tend to miss out on Western-style education and health care which the Churches promote through their universities, schools, hospitals, and clinics. It is in the best interest of the USA to get involved in rebuilding these countries and instilling hope in their societies. 


Perhaps when one Christian man is shot by Islamic fundamentalists, it is not that important a story. It is to his parents, his brother who escaped, his friends – both Muslim and Christian. There is no outcry – it is another victim killed because he believed Jesus is the Son of God, another person whose potential was snuffed out because he would not renounce Christ. Another ordinary day in the life of far too many Christians – while in the free West, the majority of baptized in North America and Western Europe no longer are drawn to step inside a church a regular basis. 

Bassem Herz Attalhah, also known as Haythem Shehata, was on his way home from work in El-Arish, capital of North Sinai governorate, on Saturday evening (13 January), with his brother Osama and neighbour and friend Mohamed, when they were stopped by three armed men, aged between 23 and 25.

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Dome of the Coptic church in Sharm el-Sheikh, North Sinai

They were wearing black jackets,” Osama, 38, told World Watch Monitor. “They approached us and asked Bassem to show them the wrist of his right hand, and when they saw the tattoo of the cross,* they asked him: ‘Are you Christian?’ Bassem answered ‘Yes, I am Christian’, and repeated that again in a loud voice.”  would we be so bold as to answer that question in a situation already dangerous?    *Coptic Orthodox in Egypt put a tatoo of the cross on their children’s right wrist as a  permanent sign of faith. 

The men then asked Mohamed his name and made him show his wrist. When they saw he had no tattoo, he was allowed to leave. Then they turned to Osama. Osama is a common name, also among Muslims, and the men didn’t know he was Bassem’s brother.

“Bassem told them that I had children,” Osama recalls. “They asked me to show them the wrist of my right hand and, when they didn’t see any cross, they thought that I was Muslim.” The men didn’t see the cross that Osama has tattooed on the top of his hand because it was hidden under his sleeve.

“They fired two shots on the ground close to my legs and asked me to leave,” he recalled. “And then they shot Bassem in the head. I could not believe what happened to my brother. He fell on the ground in front of me and I was unable to do anything.”On his way to find help, Osama says his legs gave way from the shock. Their mother, upon hearing the news, fainted and had to be taken to hospital.

“We lost a person dear to our hearts. My brother Bassem was a very good and kind man. He had a strong relationship with God. He was always reading in the Bible, praying and going to the church. He was loved by all people,” Osama said.

When Bassem’s close friend Milad Wasfi heard he had been killed, he couldn’t believe it and called his friend’s phone. His call was answered, but not by his friend.“The terrorists answered me and said they belong to State of Sinai and promised to kill more Copts before they put down the phone,” he told World Watch Monitor.

Scores of Coptic Christian families left for Ismailia and Suez, about 200 km away, after a string of killings in El-Arish last year — including one incident where a woman witnessed her husband and son killed by a gunman who then ticked them off an IS hit-list. In March 2017 it was estimated that 70 per cent of the 160 Coptic Christian families living in the city had left.  Bassem, Osama and their parents had been among those who fled the city. Struggling to find work in Ismailia, however, the two brothers left for Cairo, and when things did not work out for them there either, they decided to return to El-Arish in September. The situation seemed to have stabilised and their father joined them, selling carpets, while Bassem and Osama set up a shop for mobile phones. One month later they brought the rest of the family back from Ismailia.

Saint George church in El-Arish, burned out in 2015 by Muslim Brotherhood. Christians can wait years for a permit  to restore a church, build a new church, or hold services without a church. 

Bassem’s friend Milad, who is still living in Ismailia, fears for his own future and for the other displaced Christians families of El-Arish. “The hope and the dream of [one day] returning to our homes in El-Arish has become very difficult, especially after this incident,” he said. In February last year President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi ordered his government to “take all necessary measures” to help resettle Christians fleeing North Sinai. But, as World Watch Monitor reported in July, as the attacks against Copts continued, they have found it harder and harder to believe their government could protect them.   

Bassem was buried this morning (15 January) in his home village of Dweik, in Tema district, Sohag governorate. “Bassem was a very good man,” Milad says. “Honest, quiet, modest, a light-hearted person and close friend to me. From early childhood he loved the Church and he was a man of prayer and worship. He didn’t renounce the faith and didn’t deny his Lord Jesus Christ. He didn’t fear death. Actually, he didn’t die but has won the real life in Heaven, enjoying being with Jesus. We pray that God will comfort us [and] thank God for saving the life of Osama, to care for his five children and his parents.”

Posted by: Fr Chris | January 6, 2018

A Fundamental Change: Sunday after Theophany Sermon

In the gospel today, we heard a verse adapted by St Matthew from the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 9:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the nations
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”

The land allotted to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali

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The majority of the people in Galilee were pagans who lived in darkness, but Theophany is a feast of lights in the dark of January to show how powerful J’s presence is.

His light pierces the physical darkness with the bright illumination of churches at night, and the spiritual darkness of those who lived either as pagans or under the influence of paganism. The Israelite tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali were given this northeast corner of the Holy Land to live in. By the time of Isaiah the Jews who were still living there had trouble holding onto their faith and customs, and this was even more so in the time of Christ.

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Jesus calls the fishermen to become fishers of men

The Galilean Jewish population was looked down upon by the Jews living in the region of Judea and Jerusalem. Those Jews saw the Galilean Jews as not being orthodox enough and the province was called Heathen Galilee by Judeans. However, the Jews living there were also open to new ideas and they were also looking for the messiah. Jesus comes with a radical preaching as He calls the disciples to follow Him, not for military glory but instead to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to teach the way of God to those who do not know God — and the core of His message is of the need to repent.


From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It was a constant theme of  John the Baptist’s preaching, of  Jesus’ preaching, and in the messages of Our Lady to the world at her various apparitions in the 19th and 20th centuries: repent.

To repent:  in English: to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin. But in the original Greek it is much stronger – a transformative change of heart; especially a spiritual conversion.

Looking at Hellenistic Jewish writings, scholars have found that for Jews living at the time of Jesus, “repentance” meant “a fundamental change in thinking and living.” For the New Testament, this change is a necessary ingredient in accomplishing God’s plan for salvation and community for everyone.  A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE – in the core of my being, in the depths of my soul, in the deepest part of my heart, in the chambers of my mind – CHANGE from one way of living to a totally different one.

Bats in North America have been suffering from a fungus on their noses. It has killed nearly six million bats in their dark caves – but now a cure has been found: light. Showing a little ultra-violet light on the bats kills the fungus and saves the bats. Saving the bats means saving the ecology as they have a critical role to play in nature and in our food supply.  What does this have to do with the sermon?

As it happens, next week is Zacchaeus Sunday – that means the preparation season for Great Lent begins in January, since Easter is April 1st. Lent is of course THE time to repent – not only of sin, but to do this – have a transformative change of heart, have a spiritual conversion, to be open to the Divine Light which kills all sin!  This is already the time of the year therefore to start asking myself:

What must I repent of?       What must I convert to?   What must I change inside of me in order to follow Christ more authentically?

There is a famous painting of Jesus knocking on a closed door. The door has no handle. The person inside the house must open the door and answer Jesus’ knock. If not, Jesus will walk away.

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Jesus does not want people who say, oh it’s too hard, God understands. He wants people willing to break free of the chains of sins, to turn away from that darkness of sinful lives to His shining light. Jesus Christ is  the Son of God who says in the Gospel of Saint John:”I am the true light. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness.”  Jesus is the light that kills human sins, enabling us, empowering us, to fulfill the roles He has assigned to each of us in His world.

Everyone has a darkness to walk away from. The child who refuses to play nicely, or to do chores in the house without complaining. The adult who doesn’t like the co-worker or boss and makes it known to everyone. The soul who resorts to alcohol, or marijuana, or other drugs, or pornography rather than God’s grace. The person who says I go to church for two hours on Sunday, what more does God want?  Funny how we expect God to be attentive to us for the whole 168 hours of the week but people can resist giving Him more than Sunday worship time.

Jesus invited the apostles to follow Him – they abandoned careers, families, bank accounts in order to walk with Him. And the key here is that Jesus walked with them, as God once walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve every evening at sunset. He walked with them and worked with them as they were then, gradually leading them to change from followers to apostles.

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Take up your cross and follow Me; walk with Me. 

He wants to walk with me – say that to ourselves – He wants to walk with ME.

He wants to be there the whole time, knocking on the doors of our hearts and minds.  We have to open the door from inside and let Him in, and when we let Him in, He comes with His bright light of love and grace to pierce the darkness of our hearts and minds and let the light kill our bad habits, our sins. But we have to open ourselves to that light – and then like the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, we will each indeed see a great light – one of grace and God’s energy working with our free will to become new people this year, different from last year, people who are aware that God is indeed walking with each of them.           

Christ is among us!

Posted by: Fr Chris | January 4, 2018

An ongoing legacy of ISIS – Christian Children’s Traumas

Christian Children ‘Have Been Through Trauma No Human Being Should Ever See’
By Stoyan Zaimov

Christian children in conflict areas around the world are suffering through trauma that “no human should ever see,” says Open Doors USA, one of the biggest persecution watchdog groups in the world.

“The next generation of Christians in the Middle East, in Asia, in Central Asia, in places like Iraq and Syria, places like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Afghanistan — these young Christians have been through trauma no human being should ever have to see,” David Curry of Open Doors USA told Mission Network News in an article posted on Tuesday.

“How can something good come from this? We’re going to help reach out, rebuild, and give some deeper context for these kids, give them assistance, give them the care they need so we can have a strong and healthy Body of Christ,” he added.

Curry said that in many terror attacks, such as the killing of nine Christians at a church south of Cairo last week, it is children who suffer the most.

“We have the ability as adults to sort of contextualize things, even in the most difficult situation. But imagine a child in that circumstance,” he noted.

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He recalled the story of a young man named Noah from Iraq.

“His experience was like so many others. In the middle of the night, he was awakened by his parents and told, ‘ISIS is coming to attack us because we are Christians.’ So he had to leave everything in his house, even his most precious toys, everything. And when he came back, it was all destroyed,” Curry said.

The Open Doors CEO argued that many children have to ask questions that people in the West don’t have to deal with.

“Oftentimes, we see kids, like I was speaking with just last week, these young people from Iraq, their personal faith is so deep because they’ve had to decide, ‘Am I willing to die for this?'” he said.

Other Christian children are ostracized in communities where their faith is a minority, and are being singled out for deciding to follow Jesus, Curry added.

Some of the deadliest terror groups in the world, such as the Islamic State, called on attacks during the holiday season regardless of whether children are present.

A recent IS video from Somalia demanded “lone wolves to attack during #Christmas and #NewYearsEve, and to hit nightclubs, churches, and markets, regardless of the presence of children.”

Children have been kidnapped and used as soldiers by radical groups, and have even been forced to kill themselves and others. The IS-linked Boko Haram in Nigeria forced at least 135 children to carry out suicide bombings in 2017 alone, according to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF director of the Emergency Program, said in December that there is a major disregard of international laws that protect youngsters, with children “being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds.”

During the three-day Third Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. late last year, Curry explained that major human rights abuses in North Korea, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere begin with the persecution of Christians.

“This is the issue, I think, of our time. I say that with confidence because persecution, … and particularly the persecution of Christians, is the tipping point in every major crisis around the world,” he said at the time.

It is worth noting that in 2015 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child reported that Christian and Yazidi children were beheaded, crucified, or buried alive, while mentally handicapped children were used as suicide bombers. In addition, children as young as eight were either used as soldiers or to provide blood transfusions for ISIS “warriors” — Go to or  to donate to funds that will directly help persecuted Christians. 

Posted by: Fr Chris | December 23, 2017

Remember Persecuted Christians this Christmas

I couldn’t say it better myself. May all the world be open to the Prince of Peace and HIS PEACE . 

Wrecked Catholic church in Nineveh Plain, Iraq 

From Candice Malcolm

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. That is, it’s a wonderful time of year for us in North America, where we enjoy vast religious freedoms and the ability to observe religious holidays without fear, harassment or persecution.

Sadly, this is not the case for millions of Christians around the world. Christians have become the most persecuted religious group on the planet, and we in the West are not doing enough to defend and protect Christians under attack in other parts of the world.

Nowhere is this plight more evident than in Christianity’s biblical homeland in the Middle East – where deadly attacks against Christians have become commonplace.

On Palm Sunday 2017, Islamic State militants waged a callous attack against Coptic Christians praying in their church. Two suicide bombers struck and killed 44 people in one of the deadliest days for Egypt’s already threatened Christian population.

While many Egyptian Muslims condemned the attack — many rushed to give blood, and three female Muslim police officers were killed trying to protect Christians — this type of violence in the Middle East is only intensifying.

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Refugee with all her belongings in a Catholic church 

Countries that once boasted significant religious diversity, including Iran and Turkey, no longer have any tolerance for minorities; the Muslim population in these countries now surpasses 99%. In other Middle Eastern countries that once housed sizeable Christian and Jewish minority communities, including Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, hostile political environments have forced many in these communities to flee.

Even in Lebanon, the only country in the Middle East where Christians are constitutionally granted a political stake, Christian numbers are dwindling. Christians once made up nearly 80% of the population. Today, less than one-third of Lebanon’s population is Christian.

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Burned out church in Qaraqosh, used for shooting practice by ISIS, then torched 

Christians, Jews and Muslims coexisted in the Middle East for centuries, but a new strain of Islamist extremism is making life unbearable for non-Muslims. Religious minorities are increasingly treated with suspicion or outright hostility across the region, and a rising zealotry has made intolerance the new norm.

This intense persecution and mistreatment of minorities has been highlighted under the cruel reign of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but it can be traced back one hundred years to the fall of Ottoman Empire.

As the Ottoman Empire collapsed, a group of Turkish nationalists called the Young Turks began targeting and slaughtering Christians, particularly those in the Armenian community. While the new Turkish empire tried to hide its ghastly crimes, a German diplomat and ally to the Turks wrote that there “no longer was doubt that (the Turkish government) was trying to exterminate the Armenian race in the Turkish Empire.”

In the end, at least two million Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christians were murdered by the Turks. Surviving Christians fled to the West, or into Iraq and Syria where they were protected – until the Islamists took over and began slaughtering Christians in their own genocide.

This intense hatred towards Christians has led to a drastic reduction in the Middle East’s Christian population. As recently as 1910, roughly one in five people in the Middle East were Christian. Today, it’s less than four percent.

We are witnessing an exodus of Christians from the Middle East. It’s textbook ethnic cleansing, and yet, the world remains silent.

This Christmas, we should pray for the safety and survival of ancient Christian communities in the Middle East, and we should demand that our politicians provide aid and protection to the world’s persecuted Christians.

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