Pope Francis summons Mideast envoys to Rome over ISIS progress

The holy leader is holding the rare three-day meeting that will begin Thursday to discuss a response to the progress made by the Islamic extremist group. The pope has expressed concern over the large number of Christians killed or driven away from ISIS conquered regions.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014, 1:31 PM
VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, who has expressed alarm over the rise of Islamic State militants and the plight of Christians in the Middle East, has summoned his envoys in the region to a rare meeting to discuss a response to the crisis, the Vatican said on Tuesday.The gathering will take place between Thursday and Saturday and include Vatican ambassadors to Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Israel and the Palestinians as well as representatives to the United Nations and the European Union.They will hold talks with more than a dozen top Vatican officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who addressed the United Nations on the Middle East crisis on Monday.Earlier this month during a visit to predominantly Muslim Albania, Francis issued a strong criticism of Islamist militants, saying no religious group which used violence and oppression could claim to be “the armor of God”.

Islamic State has declared a “caliphate” in the territories it controls in Syria and Iraq and has killed or driven out large numbers of Christians, Shi’ite Muslims and others who do not subscribe to its hardline version of Sunni Islam.


Asked about Islamic State last month when returning from a trip to South Korea, Francis endorsed action by the international community to stop “unjust aggression.”

Parolin, the Vatican’s top diplomat, told the the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Monday that it was “both licit and urgent to stop aggression through multilateral action and a proportionate use of force”.

Islamic State is battling Shi’ite-backed governments in both Iraq and Syria, as well as other Sunni groups in Syria and Kurdish groups in both countries, part of complex, multi-sided civil wars in which nearly every country in the Middle East has a stake.


Taken from: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/pope-summons-mideast-envoys-rome-isis-progress-article-1.1958203

Pope Francis rebukes religious militants during visit to Albania

By Alba Prifti and Steve Almasy, CNN

September 21, 2014 — Updated 2210 GMT (0610 HKT)

Source: CNN


    • NEW: No one can act as the “armor of God,” Pope Francis says
    • NEW: Pontiff says Albania is an example of how people of different religions can live together
    • NEW: Francis doesn’t mention any militant group by name
    • Religious freedom is relatively new in the country with a large Muslim population

(CNN) — During a trip to the mostly Muslim nation of Albania, Pope Francis rebuked militants who act in the name of religion, saying no one can act as the “armor of God.”

The Pope lauded Albanians during a visit to the capital of Tirana, calling the Balkan nation one that proves “a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic.”

The pontiff didn’t refer to any militant group by name. He denounced those who have perverted religious spirit and who are engaged in violence that prevents harmony between people of different faiths.

Last month, he denounced ISIS, the Islamist militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East. He called ISIS an “unjust aggressor”

On Sunday, he again spoke harshly against religious warriors.

“Let no one consider themselves to be the ‘armor’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression,” Pope Francis told diplomats at the presidential palace. “May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom.”

The pontiff pointed to the religious peace in Albania, a country relatively new to the concept of religious freedom. The population is 56% Muslim, 10% Catholic and 7% Orthodox, according to the CIA Factbook. The climate of respect and trust between those groups is a “precious gift,” the pontiff said.

It has been two decades since a Pope last visited Albania, which is a short distance from Italy, just across the Adriatic Sea. The day-long visit is the first for Francis to another European country since he became Pope.

On his way to the palace, he rode through the streets past multitudes of cheering fans and onlookers in an open Pope mobile.

Later the Pope celebrated Mass on Mother Teresa Square.

Many see Pope Francis’ visit as support for the country’s efforts to grow closer to the West and its wish to join the European Union. Albania was a Soviet satellite state before the fall of European communism at the end of the Cold War.

It has been a democratic republic for 24 years.


‘Kill the Christians:’ Sydney Church Under IS Death Threats, Pope Francis At Risk Of Assassination

By Sounak Mukhopadhyay | September 18, 2014 9:56 AM EST

A stranger with the Islamic State flag shouted threats of killing “Christians and their children” at churchgoers in Sydney on Tuesday.

The stranger drove a car past Our Lady of Lebanon Church at Harris Park and threatened to “kill the Christians” and their children as well. According to witnesses, he had a triangular flag which resembled that of the Islamic State. The flag was hanging out of the car window, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

A priest confirmed the threats and said that the churchgoers had been scared. “They were strong words and people were scared of what they saw,” he said. Rosehill police Inspector Brian Jackson also confirmed the death threats made near the church. Police were called to the church on Wednesday before the mass at 7 o’clock in the evening. Hundreds of people participated in mass in the Our Lady of Lebanon Church while police officers patrolled the area.

The Vatican was earlier warned by Habeeb Al-Sadr, an Iraqi ambassador, that Pope Francis was at risk of being assassinated by the Islamic State terrorists. The 77-year-old is apparently vulnerable when he visits Albania on Sunday, Sept 21. He will also be vulnerable when he visits Turkey in November, the ambassador informed. The ambassador confirmed that the death threats against the pontiff were “credible,” The Independent reported. The Islamic State militants earlier claimed to plant their black flag on St Peter’s Basilica.

Al-Sadr told Italian daily “La Nazione” that the pontiff was targeted after he had spoken in favour of the United States and its allies to conduct a mission against the Islamic State in the Middle East. “What has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear – they want to kill the Pope. The threats against the Pope are credible,” he said, “I believe they could try to kill him during one of his overseas trips or even in Rome. There are members of Isil who are not Arabs but Canadian, American, French, British, also Italians. Isil could engage any of these to commit a terrorist attack in Europe.”

The pope is going to celebrate Mass in Albania’s capital, Tirana, on his visit there in Sunday. He also has plans to move around in his open Popemobile.

Contact the writer: s.mukhopadhyay@IBTimes.com.au

To contact the editor, e-mail: editor@ibtimes.com


Taken from: http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/566661/20140918/sydney-church-death-threats-pope-francis-risk.htm



Can Islam embrace such modern political ideas as inalienable human rights (that can be known by reason, and thus by everyone) …?

Shealah Craighead / White House Photo

by George Weigel 9 . 28 . 11

In the flood of commentary surrounding the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I found but one reference to a related anniversary of considerable importance: the fifth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Lecture. That lecture, given the day after the fifth anniversary of 9/11 at the pope’s old university in Germany, identified the two key challenges to 21st-century Islam, if that faith of over a billion people is going to live within today’s world in something other than a condition of war. On the fifth anniversary of Regensburg, therefore, it’s worth reviewing what the Pope proposed, not least because the 9/11 anniversary commentary assiduously avoided the question that the Holy Father courageously confronted: the question of what-must-change in Islam in the future, to prevent an ongoing global war of Islam-against-the-rest.

Benedict XVI made two proposals at Regensburg.

Islam, he suggested, must find a way to affirm religious freedom as a fundamental human right that can be known by reason and that includes the right to change one’s religion”and it must find this “way” from within its own religious, legal, philosophical and theological resources. The question is not one of surrender to certain secularist conceptions of public life, any more than it was when Catholicism confronted political modernity and found a solution in the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. The solution has to come from within, in what Christian theology would call a “development of doctrine.”

Secondly, Islam must find a way”again, from within its own religious and intellectual resources”to affirm a distinction between religious and political authority in a just state. This need not and indeed cannot mean a radical “wall of separation” between the two, based on some (mis)conceptions of the American constitutional order. It might mean something like what the Catholic Church did during the late 20th century, when Catholic scholars reached back into the fifth century and rediscovered a traditional distinction between priestly and imperial authority: a tradition whose deepest roots go back to the Lord’s own distinction between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God (Matthew 15:21).

Despite their being largely ignored during the 9/11 anniversary,
these do seem to be the two key issues. An Islam that affirms religious freedom, including conversion from one faith to another, and that buttresses that affirmation through its own religious self-understanding and the arts of reason, is an Islam with which “the rest” can live at ease, and in enriching ways. An Islam in which religious and political authority are distinct, if related, is an Islam in which a genuinely civil society can begin to take root”and a robust civil society is one barrier against the corrupt authoritarianism that has bedeviled Islamic countries for centuries. A robust civil society in which there is room for religious freedom and multiple political perspectives is also essential to realizing the promise of today’s “Arab Spring””which could give birth to a hot summer and a bitter winter if its chief accomplishment is to effect a change from secular political authoritarianism to religiously-warranted political authoritarianism.

What hit the United States on 9/11 was not a “tragedy,” despite the ubiquitous and virtually universal misuse of that word in the 10th”anniversary commentary. What hit New York and Washington was evil unleashed from within an intra-Islamic civil war that had been going on for decades. And at the center of that civil war is a contest over whether Islam can embrace such modern political ideas as inalienable human rights (that can be known by reason, and thus by everyone) and the separation of powers within governments.

If the answer to that question is “No,” then the cycle of war between Islam and “the rest” that has ebbed and flowed since the seventh-century will continue. If the answer is “yes,” then that answer will have to come from within Islam, not by a process in which Islamic societies radically secularize. Pope Benedict XVI was insightful enough, and courageous enough, to say this at Regensburg. It’s about time the world paid attention.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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ISIS Destroys Traditional Tomb of Prophet Jonah


Why Did ISIS Destroy the Tomb of Jonah?

by Mark Movsesian7 . 28 . 14

On Friday, the media reported that ISIS, the Islamist group that has established a “caliphate” in parts of Syria and Iraq, had destroyed the centuries-old Tomb of Jonah in Mosul, Iraq. Present-day Mosul encompasses the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, where, the Bible teaches, the Prophet Jonah preached. Although this is disputed, a tradition holds that Jonah was buried within the city, on Tell Nebi Yunus, or Hill of the Prophet Jonah.


An Assyrian church stood over the tomb for centuries. After the Muslim conquest, the church became a mosque; the structure that ISIS destroyed last week dated to the 14th century. In addition to the tomb, the mosque once held the supposed remains of the whale that had swallowed Jonah, including one of its teeth. At some point, the tooth disappeared. In 2008, the U.S. Army presented the mosque with a replica.

Last week, ISIS closed the mosque and prevented worshipers from entering. Then it wired the structure with explosives and reduced it to rubble. You can see a video of the explosion here, taken by a Mosul resident, who mutters, in Arabic, “No, no, no. Prophet Jonah is gone. God, these scoundrels.”

Some commentators have explained the destruction of the tomb as part of ISIS’s anti-Christian campaign. Scholars Joel Baden and Candida Moss point out that, in Christian interpretation, the Old Testament story of Jonah prefigures the death and resurrection of Christ. “The destruction of his tomb in Mosul is therefore a direct assault on Christian faith, and on one of the few physical traces of that faith remaining in Iraq.” Another scholar, Sam Hardy, told the Washington Post that the destruction of the tomb shows that ISIS is willing to destroy “pretty much anything in the Bible.”

On this analysis, ISIS destroyed the tomb because of its Christian associations. But that mistakes ISIS’s motives in this case. True, ISIS has no respect for Christians or their sites of worship and, in fact, has driven Mosul’s Christians from the city. The fact that the tomb was sacred for Christians as well as Muslims—and contained a present from the US Army—cannot have endeared it to ISIS. But something else is going on here. The shrine was, after all, a mosque, and Jonah figures in the Quran as well as the Bible. To understand why ISIS destroyed the tomb, one has to appreciate something about the version of Islam the group espouses.

ISIS is part of the Salafi movement, a branch of Sunni Islam that seeks to return to the practices of the earliest Muslims – the salaf— who lived at the time of the Prophet Mohammed and just after. The movement rejects the centuries of subsequent developments in Islam as unjustified innovations–pagan accretions that adulterated the faith. In particular, the movement opposes the veneration of the graves of Islamic prophets and holy men. Salafis see this practice, which is associated most frequently with Sufi Islam, as a kind of idolatry, or shirk, that detracts from the absolute transcendence of God.

Salafi Islam prevails in Saudi Arabia, where it enjoys the patronage of the royal family. On the Arabian Peninsula, as now in Iraq, Salafis have destroyed the tombs of Islamic holy men. Indeed, when the Saudi royal family captured the city of Medina in the 19th century, Salafis systematically destroyed the tombs of several of the Prophet Mohammed’s companions and family members, leaving only the Prophet’s tomb itself unmolested. There is some thought that the Saudi government plans on dismantling even that tomb, but hesitates to do so because of the uproar that would result in other Muslim communities.

In short, one should see ISIS’s destruction of the tomb of Jonah as an act principally directed at other Muslims, not Christians. That doesn’t make it any better, of course. Will the outside world do anything in response? Unlikely. Besides, as Professor Hardy told the Post, “If we didn’t intervene when they were killing people, it would be kind of grotesque to intervene over a building.”


Taken from: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/07/why-did-isis-destroy-the-tomb-of-jonah

Ambassador warns of ISIS threat for Pope Francis’ Albania visit


Published September 16, 2014

Sept. 14, 2014: Pope Francis waves from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square during his Sunday Angelus, at the Vatican. (AP)

Iraq’s Ambassador to the Holy See is warning that Pope Francis could be targeted by ISIS militants ahead of the pontiff’s first visit to Albania this weekend.

The Vatican is not beefing up security to protect Francis during his upcoming trip to the majority Muslim country on Sunday, despite warnings from Habeeb Al Sadr, who said there are credible threats against the pope’s life, according to an Italian newspaper cited in The Telegraph.


The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said Monday that Francis would use the same open-topped vehicle he uses in St. Peter’s Square when he greets crowds in the poor Balkan nation. Vatican security officials are “calm” ahead of the 11-hour visit, he said.

Lombardi said that while there is general concern about the Islamic State threat, “there are no specific threats or risks that would change the pope’s behavior or the way the trip is organized.”

But Al Sadr says the pope has made himself a target by speaking out against ISIS and the atrocities suffered by Christians in Iraq and Syria.

“What has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear – they want to kill the pope. The threats against the pope are credible,” he told La Nazione on Tuesday, according to The Telegraph. “I believe they could try to kill him during one of his overseas trips or even in Rome. There are members of ISIL who are not Arabs but Canadian, American, French, British, also Italians.”

Francis has said he wanted to visit Albania to highlight the rebirth of Christianity that was brutally wiped out during communist rule, and to showcase how Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Muslims are working together now to govern the country.

Italian news reports, citing unnamed sources, have said Albanian law enforcement had flagged to Interpol concerns that Muslim militants who trained in Iraq and Syria had returned and might pose a threat to Francis.

Francis’ decision to visit tiny Albania before any major European capital is in keeping with his desire for the church to go to the “periphery.” It also confirms his desire to encourage once-persecuted Christian communities.

Like other religions, Catholicism suffered gravely under Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who declared Albania the world’s first atheist state in 1967. Many Catholics were killed, tortured, imprisoned or sent to labor camps. The ban on religions ended in the early 1990s and St. John Paul II visited in 1993.

During his brief visit, Francis will address Albanian authorities and an interreligious gathering, celebrate Mass in a square named for Albania’s most famous Catholic — Mother Teresa — and greet children cared for by charitable groups.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Taken from: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/09/16/vatican-says-no-extra-security-or-changed-plans-for-pope-in-albania-despite/


“I answered [the terrorists] immediately, I was born Christian and if that leads me to death, I prefer to die a Christian.”


…. Khiria Al-Kas Isaac is a 54-year-old Iraqi Christian woman, whose testimony will move you to tears. I am utterly impressed by her bravery.

Islamic Jihadists just invaded her village of Qaraqosh. She expected death, as they demanded she convert to Islam or die. Khiria survived, as she consistently said: “I answered [the terrorists] immediately, I was born Christian and if that leads me to death, I prefer to die a Christian.” Quoting from Matthew 10:33, she said: “Jesus said: ‘Whoever denies me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven’.”

Such bravery. You can read the full interview here.

Khiria is not alone. Like Khiria, another 46 Christian women were separated from their families. None which renounced their faith. They were whipped and further beaten for 10 days as the terrorists sought their ‘conversion’. “All of us were crying but refused to convert,” says Khiria who cannot sleep because of nightmares stemming from her captivity. That’s firmness. That’s faith. That’s strength. Quite a contrast to the style of faith we live, often without persecution, or at least often without this type of persecution.

Testimonies from the refugee camps are also striking. ‘They will kill us or sell us as sex slaves; we are the spoils of war,’ said one of the Christian refugees, who is 5 months pregnant… “What will happen to my son?” She asked anxiously.

The harsh winter is approaching and they are still living in a tent. To make things worse, there is a reported outbreak of typhoid fever and volunteers fear a cholera epidemic.

Damien, this is an extreme situation. We must act.

Please help by calling on the European Union to provide immediate shelter to the persecuted Christians of Iraq. As a community, we cannot look away any longer.


We request, in addition to signing the petition, please also share it with your friends and family via email and social networks. The situation to Christians in Iraq is startling and appears overwhelming. We need to provide a solution. With your help, we can.

As I said in a previous e-mail, Damien, during the Italian Semester of chairmanship of the European Council, the Italian Government committed itself in defending and promoting religious freedom and in fighting violence and discrimination on religious grounds. As you may recall, it was the airplane of an Italian official that helped Meriam Ibrahim escape Sudan.

We now have the opportunity to lobby European institutions to demand concrete support for Christians in Iraq. Who will deal with the typhoid fever? Will deal with the cholera epidemic? Who will provide real shelter during the harsh winter? Who will step up and work towards providing asylum status, offering them the dignity they deserve?


My friend, Luca Volonte, the President of Novae Terrae Foundation (Italy) just announced that he will soon meet face to face with the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and leaders within the European Union. Furthermore, as soon this upcoming Monday, Luca is expected to present your petition signatures in Brussels.

In advance, we thank you for joining our efforts to ensure that Iraq Christians receive the dignity they deserve. We cannot look the other way when our brothers and sisters in Iraq are suffering.

Just another quick story. My colleague Luis Losada was recently in Mexico giving a speech about online activism and CitizenGO. He could not help but to talk about the situation in Iraq. Afterwards, a young girl came up to him with an amazing gesture. Obviously, being a young girl, she has very little. She doesn’t have internet, she won’t have a chance to sign this petition. She walked up to Luis and handed him her most precious and valuable item, a coin worth around $700 and said ‘please make sure this goes towards Christians in Iraq.’ Truly an amazing gesture.

She couldn’t join our campaign via online activism — so she gave everything. We are not asking for financial donations, just asking you donate a few minutes of your time to sign our petition and share it online. Send an email to some friend, or simply promote it on Facebook.


Luca will present your signature to MEP Brok, Chairman of the Foreign Affair Commission of the European Parliament. Currently we have 187,169 signatures. Please help us increase that number by Monday, so we can show strong support.

Warmest regards,

Gregory Mertz and the whole CitizenGO team