Retracing the Footsteps of the Great Reformer

 

It was five hundred years ago today, 31 October 1517, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Had it not been for the subsequent translation of these theses from Latin into German by someone unbeknownst to Luther,  the Augustinian monk’s action would likely have drawn little attention.  Instead, these 95 theses, translated into German, would prove to be the catalyst that would shake the medieval church to its very foundations.

The church of Luther’s time has been likened to one of those old buildings covered in ivy–in my view, an apt description.  We’ve all seen those ivy-covered buildings from the late nineteenth-century.  So completely covered in ivy are they that one can see nothing more than the windows and the door. It’s impossible to tell anything about the structure beneath all that ivy:  whether it’s a building constructed of red brick, or grey sandstone, or something else.  And so it was with the medieval church!  So many practices and beliefs, with no basis in Scripture, had grown up over the centuries. What Luther, and his fellow reformers did, was to ‘pull down the ivy’ that had obscurred the church’s true message;  salvation by faith alone (sola fides), by grace alone (sola gratia), and by Jesus Christ alone (solus Christus).

A few years ago I had the privilege of spending a day in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, as its now known.  The old university town is a great place for a walking tour because all  the important sites are easily accessible.  The prime site to visit, naturally, was the castle church door where Luther posted his 95 theses.  Why the door of the castle church? In Luther’s day, the castle church door functioned as the local university’s bulletin board.  In posting his list, Luther was calling for an academic disputation on the “power and efficacy of indulgences…”.

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This is the door of the castle church (schlosskirche), or All Saints’ Church, where Luther posted his 95 theses.  The 1517 door has not survived.  This is a later-installed door inscribed with his 95 theses.

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Luther’s grave is situated below the podium where he stood to preach.

One of the things I learned about Luther on this trip–something I hadn’t known previously–was that he was a talented musician who played the lute and possessed a great singing voice.  Putting his musical gifts in service of the Reformation, he composed hymns as well. After viewing the door of the castle church, I went to nearby Corpus Christi Chapel where I joined with others in singing Luther’s most well-known hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  The Reformation was spread not only by sermon but by song as well.  So thrilling to be singing this hymn in Wittenberg!   A Lutheran pastor–from the US–led the group in singing Luther’s hymn, then gave a Bible reading and short talk to the handful of English-speaking tourists there.

Not long after my day in Wittenberg, I made it to another place famous for its Luther-connection: Wartburg Castle, located on a hill overlooking the city of Eisenach.  It was here at Wartburg Castle where Friedrich the Wise (Elector Frederick of Saxony) hid Martin Luther, disguised as a certain ‘Squire George’, between 1521-22, thus keeping the reformer out of the clutches of the pope who would surely have had him executed as a heretic.  Anyone who offered Luther protection would be punished as well.  Anyone who offered him up, on the other hand, would be rewarded with a plenary indulgence.

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Hidden away in the castle, in a stube or room provided by the Elector, Luther translated the New Testament from Greek to German.  Luther had never seen a Bible until he was 20 years old, and that was when he came across a Latin Bible in the monastery library at Erfurt.  He was amazed to find “what a small portion of the Scripture was allowed to reach the ears of the people.”  To the reforming monk, scripture alone (sola scriptura) was the basis for right belief and practice.   It was a moving experience for me to see the room where Luther did his translating.

Luther’s wife does not receive the attention she should, in my view, for her story is a remarkable one, too.  Katharina von Bora had entered a Cistercian convent at an early age and took her vows as soon as possible. Become dissatisfied with her life in the convent, and her interest piqued by the new teachings (which may have had something to do with her growing dissatisfaction),  she plotted with eleven other nuns to escape:  an act punishable by death.  Even giving shelter to an escaped nun was a crime under church law.  Katharina contacted Luther, and he helped her escape in an empty fish barrel!  Luther found homes, marriages, or employment for ten of the escaped nuns.  When only Katharina was left, he married her himself in 1525.   To many at this time, such a marriage was scandalous.  For a monk and a nun to marry was nothing short of incest.

“Dear Kate,” as Luther called her, proved to be a wonderfully resourceful mate:  she managed the household, brewed beer, leased land for gardening, bred cattle, and gave birth to six children.  In marrying the resourceful ex-nun, Luther proved to those around him  that one could be a clergyman and a happy husband and family man, all at the same time.

No account of the life of Martin Luther can be complete without mentioning his hateful rants against the Jewish people in his later years, his legacy thus forever tainted.  That said, Martin Luther, flawed human being though he was, deserves to be acknowledged, especially today, for freeing those held captive by Rome and revealing once more “the glorious liberty of the gospel.”

  Portraits of Katharina von Bora and Martin Luther

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How I Viewed the August 21 Solar Eclipse

Today was the much-anticipated day of the ‘American Eclipse of 2017’.  Once we learned that glasses were no longer available, my husband and I decided to try the ‘two sheets of paper and pin hole’ method.   And it worked!!  My husband cut three different sizes of holes, and wonder of wonders, it was the tiniest hole, the pin hole, that produced the best image.

Eclipse2We taped the sheet to the outside window of our back patio and waited, peering at the image on the bottom sheet every ten minutes or so as the shadows began to lengthen and it started to get cold.  That is what I will remember most about today’s solar eclipse:  the dramatic plunge in the temperature.

Eclipse3The solar eclipse was not total in our area; this is the closest we came: 90%.

Eclipse4 (2)They say that birds stop chirping during an eclipse, but the sea gulls that are so noisy this time of year in our neighbourhood never did stop their raucous cacophony.  Maybe it takes a total eclipse to silence them.

I’m glad I got to experience the solar eclipse today. It’s so easy to get caught up in our everyday activities that we forget that we are part of an immeasurably vast and awesome cosmos.   When I experience a celestial event like that of today, I am reminded of the words of the psalmist:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3-4 NIV).

We who live in this part of the world got to ‘consider the heavens’ today.

The majority of those who watched the solar eclipse probably regarded it as a fascinating scientific phenomenon, and nothing more.  Christians no doubt viewed it, not only a scientific phenomenon but a demonstration of God’s awesome creative activity.

Fascinating as it was, could the American Eclipse of 2017 have been more than a scientific phenomenon or demonstration of God’s handiwork? Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of US evangelist Billy Graham, believes it could be, issuing an urgent warning of impending disaster and destruction.  The last solar eclipse to cross the continental US occurred in June of 1918.  What followed was the Spanish flu pandemic when 675,000 Americans–20 – 50 million people worldwide–died.

The trajectory of today’s solar eclipse crossed the US mainland from northwest to southeast, passing over three important seismic zones:  Cascadia, Yellowstone, and New Madrid.  Another solar eclipse will occur in eight years time, on April 24 in 2024.  At that time, the path of the solar eclipse will proceed from northeast to southwest.  The zone where the two trajectories cross on April 8 is the New Madrid seismic zone:  a significant location, for sure! This was the location of the largest earthquake ever to occur in the US.  On 16 December 1811, a 7.5 – 7.9 earthquake occurred in the region that was felt as far way as New York City, Boston, Montreal, and Washington DC.  In the early 1800s, human life lost was minimal because it occurred in an unpopulated area.  If another earthquake were to occur there, loss of human life would be catastrophic.

Today’s solar eclipse could be the harbinger of something even more devastating than a world pandemic or massive earthquake, and hence, Anne Graham Lotz’ urgent warning.  Could today’s celestial event be a sign of the approaching ‘Day of the LORD’, that time of apocalyptic judgment predicted to occur at the end of history?  According to the prophet Joel, cosmic convulsions are a signal that the Day of the LORD is imminent.

The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD (Joel 2:31). 

Anne Graham Lotz may be right.  However, the thing about such claims:  it’s only with the passage of time that we learn whether or not some event was indeed a sign of impending catastrophe.

There was an earlier solar eclipse on 21 August,  in 1914,  just weeks after the start of World War I.  Its trajectory followed a path through Eastern Europe.  It’s now known as the World War I solar eclipse.  Did those who observed it see it as an omen of some sort?  Of those who did, no one, I’m sure, could have even begun to imagine what lay ahead, not only for Europe, but for the entire world.

I enjoyed watching the solar eclipse today.  Was it an omen of impending disaster? Who can say?  One thing I do know:  Christians are exhorted to be watchful, not fearful!

 

 

 

 

Betrayal at the UN

In eighteen days time, Barack Hussein Obama’s presidency will have ended and President-elect Trump will have been installed as the 45th president of the USA.  By now, many have likely forgotten how Pres. Obama, in office for only a few months and before he had accomplished anything of note, was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.  Widely criticized for their choice of recipients, the Norwegian Nobel Committee justified their selection of the fledgling US president thus:  It was because Pres. Obama had “created a new climate in international politics.”  (The award was intended, as much as anything, as a rejection of the foreign policies of Pres. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.)

In 2009, Pres. Obama hadn’t as yet created the “new climate in international politics” that the Norwegian Nobel Committee believed he had.  But that is not the case eight years later.  Just look around at the world he leaves for his successor.  The world’s greatest exporter of terrorism, Iran, is billions of dollars wealthier, courtesy of the US.   An ascendant Russia now ‘calls the shots’, literally, in the Middle East, thanks to a leader content to “lead from behind.”

Not only has Pres. Obama empowered two of the biggest threats to the West and, ultimately, to world peace–Iran and Russia–he has abandoned the one and only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel.  It had been a longstanding tradition that when the United nations Security Council (UNSC) attempted to pass resolutions targeting Israel over the issue of so-called ‘settlements’, the US as one of the permanent members would use its veto power, and thus the resolution would fail to pass.  On 23 December 2016, the Obama administration, breaking with tradition, abstained rather than using its veto power, thereby allowing UNSC resolution 2334 to pass.

This unprecedented abstention will have far-reaching consequences.  Resolution 2334, unlike previous resolutions, calls for Israel not only to withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders, but to withdraw from East Jerusalem.  Consider what such a withdrawal would mean for the Jewish people:  It would mean abandoning the Temple Mount, site of the First and Second Temples; it would mean forsaking the Western Wall where Jews pray; it would mean turning over to the Palestinians the entire Jewish Quarter of the city, including the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, the Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus.  Resolution 2334 calls for the Jewish people to deny their historic and religious connections to Jerusalem.  It calls for Israel to do the unthinkable!

 

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(Personal photo taken on a trip to Israel in 2014)

Israelis remember all too well what life was like when Jordan occupied the same territory (1948-67).  During the 1948 war between the nascent Jewish state and its Arab neighbours, Jordan seized control of the west bank of the Jordan River as well as the Old City of Jerusalem.  Jordan’s seizure and annexation of this territory, interestingly, was viewed as an illegal act by the Arab League; Britain recognized it.  The 1949 Armistice Agreement that ended the war was supposed to give Israelis access to their religious sites in the Old City/East Jerusalem, but Jordan never honoured the agreement.  Israelis were barred from entering the Old City; some 58 ancient synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were either desecrated or destroyed; and tombstones from the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives were used to build army barracks and even latrines for the Jordanian army.  Slum dwellings were allowed to abut the Western  Wall where Jews once prayed.  The site most sacred to Jews worldwide came to resemble a garbage dump.

Contrast Israel’s treatment of religious sites today with that of Jordan’s.  In Israel, all religious groups are allowed administration over their own holy sites.  The administration of the Temple Mount has been retained by the Islamic Waqf, as it has been for centuries.

Because the US president abandoned Israel at the UN, expect to see more boycotts, divestment, and sanctions placed on Israel goods (economic warfare); more Israelis and their supporters hauled up before the International Criminal Court (lawfare); and, ominously, anticipate even more resistance a.k.a. terrorist attacks.  The Palestinian Arabs have had their claims to East Jerusalem affirmed by the UN Security Council, so why bother to negotiate with the Israeli government?

With the West’s enemies empowered and Israel abandoned at the UN, war is more likely now after eight years of an Obama presidency than before. This is the new climate in international politics created by the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize:  Pres. Obama.

 

The Russian Bear’s New Best Friends

If you are someone who depends solely on the Main Stream Media (MSM) for your news, you likely are  unaware that a geo-political shift of seismic proportions has occurred in the Middle East.  Like me, probably all you have heard from the MSM is that, for the first time ever, Russia launched a bombing raid on the so-called Islamic State (IS) from a base inside Iran.  Nor is it likely that you learned Turkey wants to make Incirlik, the US military’s major base of operations in Turkey and site of the US’ largest stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons on foreign soil, available now to Russia as well.

In an unprecedented move, and something even the shah of Iran never allowed, the Islamic Republic of Iran has permitted a foreign power, Russia, to use one of its air bases–Shahid Nojeh air base 50 km north of Hamadan–from which to launch bombing raids against IS in Syria.  (Critics of Russia’s bombing campaign claim that Russia targets predominantly moderate Syrian opposition forces, allies of the US, not IS.)  What does Russia get out of this new arrangement?  A greatly reduced flying time to terrorist targets in Syria.  What does Iran get out of collaborating with Russia?   Given that Iran calls the US ‘the Great Satan’ and Israel ‘the Little Satan’, I can’t think of anything good to come out of it for Israel and her allies.  (Since Russia “bragged” about its use of the Iranian air base, Iran has announced an end to the arrangement after only three sorties by the Russian bombers.  Be that as may, that Iran would allow it even once is jaw-dropping.)

Then there’s Erdogan’s Turkey,  a fellow NATO member, although, who could tell these days?  After the failed coup attempt in July, Erdogan ordered the blockade of Incirlik, the major base of operations for the  US military in Turkey, home to 5,000 US airmen and site of the US’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on foreign soil.   He has asked the US to hand over to Turkey the tactical nuclear weapons  (the US hasn’t).  Furthermore, he wants to make continued use of Incirlik air base by the Americans contingent on the US turning over Gulen, who Erdogan claims was behind the coup.  And, astoundingly, Erdogan wants the air base at Incirlik to be available now for use by Russia  as well.  An American presence on Turkish soil was established during the Cold War as a deterrent to the threat posed by the former USSR! Ironic, isn’t it.

The ‘cozy’ relationship developing between Russia, Iran, and Turkey should be a major news story, but to most, it isn’t.  Those who take Biblical prophecy seriously, however, are sitting up and taking notice.  In the Book of Ezekiel, the Hebrew prophet describes a coalition of nations, led by a leader named Gog, who attacks Israel in the latter days with disastrous consequences for the world (Ezek 38 and 39) in what has come to be known as ‘The War of Gog and Magog’.   Only one of the nations who make up this coalition is readily identifiable today:  Persia, or Iran as it is now known (38:5). Consequently, this has led to a lot of speculation as to the makeup of the rest of this latter day coalition.  Some claim that “Gog, prince of Meshech and Tubal” (38:3) refers to Russia and its leader, and “Togarmah” (38:6) is Turkey, hence the interest in the new Iran-Russia-Turkey axis.

How did Russia come to be the dominant power in the Middle East, seemingly overnight?  I asked someone this question and he replied:  “The Russian bear moved into the Middle East, and Obama moved into the bathrooms of America.”  I think that sums it up pretty well.  In pursuit of so-called “transgender rights,” the Obama administration, through its policies and decrees, is forcing radical social change on America.  Under Obama, who claims to be acting on behalf of the 0.6% of the American population who identify as transgender, the concept of male-female is being made irrelevant.   Just last week, Pres. Obama decreed that every bathroom, shower, and locker room in every courthouse, every school,  indeed,  every federal building in the US, is now open to people of either gender.  One’s sexual identity–now considered a matter of personal choice–determines what bathroom or locker room one can use, and not the set of ‘plumbing’ one was born with.  Social change:  this is Pres. Obama’s priority at this moment in time.  I predict that future generations will regard this period in history with utter disbelief, trying to,  and failing, to make sense of the Obama administration’s  obsession with bathrooms at a time like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing Spain, At Last

Those of you who follow my blog will have noticed that some weeks have passed since I last posted anything.  The reason for my silence:  I have been travelling in Europe, mostly Spain, for the past four weeks.  This was a trip that was supposed to have taken place twelve years ago, but which had to be cancelled at the last minute.  Mere days before we were to leave, while my husband and I were out for a Sunday afternoon hike, my husband started seeing birds–birds that weren’t there.  Later that day, when a ‘black veil’ slowly and inexorably began to reduce the field-of-vision in his left eye, we both knew where we were going–and it wasn’t Spain.  This year, as we were pondering what to do with some freebie air miles we had acquired, it occurred to me, “Why not take that trip to Spain we had to cancel more than a decade ago?”  So that’s what we did.

After having spent time in Spain, I would suggest that anyone with an interest in Roman history and archaeology (I include myself) should put Spain high up on their ‘bucket list’.  In Spain, the ancient Roman province of Hispania and modern-day Spain exist side by side.  Driving along a busy city street, you’ll suddenly spot a good-sized portion of a Roman wall as you go flying by at 80 km; or, walking along a side street just off a busy pedestrian mall lined with upscale shops and restaurants, you’ll come upon the pillars of a temple built in honour of a Roman emperor.

Evidence that Spain was once part of the mighty Roman Empire is everywhere, visible and accessible. To describe every ancient site of interest that I visited would make for a very long blog, so I’ll mention only three.  At the top of my ‘must see’ list of sites in Spain was the aqueduct in Segovia.  It was even more impressive than I had expected.

Segovia GMP

Built in AD 50 or thereabouts, this remarkably well-preserved aqueduct, with its two tiers of arches and 221 pillars, is a tribute to the engineering skills of the ancient Romans.

Taking a self-guided walk in the Barri Gotic neighbourhood of Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona, is to take a stroll back in time–way back in time.  Barcelona is built on the site of the Roman city of Barcino, founded around 15 BC.  On a side street off Barcelona’s famed pedestrian mall known as Las Ramblas stand four 9-meter high columns:  all that remains of a temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar.  Built sometime in the 1st century BC in honour of the Roman emperor who was regarded as divine, the temple was part of the forum located at the centre of ancient Barcino.

Temple of Augustus

The two defence towers that straddle the main gate into the Roman city of Barcino are still standing where they were erected, although only the base of the towers dates from the Roman era.  The top sections are 12th century renovations.

Roman Gates

 Spain was once an important part of a vast empire which stretched from Hadrian’s Wall in the north of Britain to the Middle East.  Two Roman emperors, in fact, hailed from Hispania:  Hadrian and Trajan. Today, Spain is part of another kind of ’empire’:  an economic union consisting of 28 member countries called the EU (European Union).  Some see the EU as a revived Roman Empire–maybe, maybe not. (I’ll write more about that in a future blog).  What is clear is that Spain faces the same dilemma as her 27 fellow members countries:  What to do about the massive influx of migrants, more than 800,000 so far this year.  In Madrid, I saw a huge banner draped across a building which read in big bold letters:  WE WELCOME REFUGEES.  That’s a great statement, but the reality is, almost all of the migrants from the Middle East and Africa head for Germany and Sweden, countries with the most generous social programs.

I have to say, there is something disturbing about the nature of this new ’empire’ taking shape on the European continent.  Just today, the EU voted to label the source of origin of all products that come from Israeli ‘settlements’ in the Westbank and Golan Heights, this despite the fact that these businesses employ large numbers of Palestinians.  So now all ‘good’ Europeans can  boycott any product that originates from an ‘illegal Jewish settlement’.  This is nothing short of economic warfare directed by the EU against the Jewish state.  I wonder:  Will the labels be yellow?  You would think the EU would want to address the heinous knife attacks now being directed by Palestinian youths at pregnant Jewish women and 80-year-olds.

My husband and I both agree that our trip to Spain–delayed for more than ten years–exceeded all our expectations.  Our exploration of Spain was not confined to ancient Roman sites.  Rick Steeve’s guidebook on Spain in hand, we visited Spain’s many magnificent cathedrals; saw the beautiful Alhambra with its Generalife Gardens in Granada and La Mezquita in Cordoba with its 850 red-and-white striped columns–I could go on and on:  the great tapas and seafood paellas , the fast AVE trains that transport you at 300 km/hr across Spain in the matter of a couple of hours, the good weather (only two days of rain in 16).  The only problem:  Now I want to see more of Spain.

The Great Migration of 2015

It has been two months since I last posted a blog.  Time, then, to offer my take on the issue dividing the 28 EU member countries into two opposing camps:  What to do about the massive number of Muslim asylum-seekers who have landed, and continue to land daily, on Europe’s shores.  Europe hasn’t seen people on the move in such numbers as this since the end of WWII.  In the month of August alone, a record number of refugees and migrants from the Middle East–104,460–made it onto European soil.  Germany’s vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel predicts that before the year is out, one million will have arrived in Germany.  Night after night on television, we see heart rending scenes of people jammed into dangerously-inadequate boats issued by unscrupulous human smugglers, determined nevertheless to make the perilous trip across the Mediterranean even though they and their children–like almost 3,000 earlier asylum-seekers–may drown before reaching land.

Canada and the United States are nations of immigrants.  I myself am the daughter of an immigrant.  My father, while still a teenager–only 16 years of age–was encouraged by his mother to forsake war-ravaged Europe and join an older sister of his who had emigrated earlier and was living in a small town on the Canadian prairies.  And so he did.  [For some reason unknown to me, his mother chose to stay put along with three other of his sisters.  His father had died when he was only six months old.]  Many of the asylum-seekers from the Middle East that we see on our TV nightly appear to be young males in their late teens or twenties–up to 71%, according to some observers–the same age as my father when he emigrated.

Some have noted that what we are witnessing today bears similarities to the Great Migration of Peoples into the Western Roman Empire that occurred in the 4th century.  In order to escape from the Huns–a fearsome Eastern nomadic people–Germanic tribes massed in great numbers on the borders of the Roman Empire.  In 376, the Visigoths were the first of the Germanic tribes to receive permission from the Roman authorities to settle on imperial land.  Two years later, the Visigoths, riled by the policies of their host, rebelled.  On 8 August 378 they attacked a Roman army at Adrianople.  Two-thirds of the Roman army were slaughtered, the Roman emperor Valens was killed and his body was  never recovered.  Thirty-four years later, the Visigoths led by their leader Alaric sacked the imperial capital, Rome.  The admission of the Germanic tribes turned out to be a primary contributing factor in the empire’s eventual downfall.

Witnessing  the ‘great migration of 2015’, we must not assume that all those clambering to get into Europe are fleeing the war in Syria or the savagery of the Islamic State (IS).  Some are, for certain.  Others are not refugees but rather, economic migrants intent on reaching the ‘Promised Land’, Germany.  But what if the dreams of those economic migrants never become a reality?  Today, they are armed only with backpacks and cell phones.  What if they don’t get the job they want, or achieve the lifestyle they had pictured for themselves?  What if they find the ‘decadence’ of post-Christian Europe intolerable?  And what if they turn on their host like the Visigoths centuries before?

How many of the young men now breaching Europe’s borders are just guys like my immigrant father, ready to work hard and assimilate, no one can say.  And therein lies the problem.  There are reasons to be worried.  Back in February of this year, IS revealed that it planned to flood Europe with as many as 500,000 refugees.  The predicted ‘invasion’ is happening before our very eyes. That there are IS terrorists sheltered among the migrants should be taken for granted.  In a videotaped killing of Coptic Christians, IS showed a masked fighter pointing across the Mediterranean towards Europe, saying, “We will conquer Rome, God willing.”  And an IS tweet reads, “We are coming, O Rome.”

The vast majority of migrants, undoubtedly, are peace-loving Muslims.  Something the noted scholar of Islam Robert Spencer has pointed out, however, is that the act of migrating to a non-Muslim country can be for a Muslim an act of piety which brings rewards.  It’s known as hijrah, migrating for the sake of Allah.  The Qur’an promises that

whoso migrateth for the cause of Allah will find much refuge and abundance in the earth and whoso forsaketh his home, a fugitive unto Allah and his messenger, and death overtaketh him, his reward is then incumbent upon Allah…(Surah 4:100).

This explains in part, I think, why migrants are not going to other Muslim countries, but to the West. Immigration to non-Muslim countries promotes the spread of Islam, as well as bestowing blessings on those who undertake it.  Do many or any of the migrants believe they are immigrating for the sake of Allah?  It could very well be.

Of one thing we can be sure:  The ‘great migration of 2015’ is going to change Europe irrevocably, and in ways we could never have even imagined.

Pope Francis, ‘Palestine’, and the ‘Angel of Peace’

The news that Pope Francis is getting set to officially recognize the ‘State of Palestine’ has left Israelis along with many supporters of the Jewish state disappointed and angry.  That the Vatican was moving in this direction has been apparent for some time, however.  In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to recognize ‘Palestine’ as a ‘non-member observer state’.  (The only other state granted this status is the Vatican City.)  Ever since then, the Vatican has referred to the ‘state of Palestine’ in all its communications.  During his visit to Israel last year, Pope Francis referred to Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), as the leader of the ‘state of Palestine’.

The agreement that the Vatican intends to sign with the non-existent ‘state of Palestine’ covers the activities and the legal status of the Catholic Church in the West Bank and Gaza.  (Arab Christians make up 10 % of the population of the West Bank.)  When signed, the accord will essentially recognize Gaza and the West Bank as a country of its own.

Am I surprised that the pope intends to recognize ‘Palestine’?  No, in part because I have just finished reading David Kertzer’s latest work, The Pope and Mussolini:  The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for biography-autobiography.  (This is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it.)  Drawing on material in the Vatican archives formerly unavailable to researchers, Kertzer provides fresh insights into the collaboration that occurred between pope and Fascist dictator in the 1920s and 1930s:  a collaboration which led, among others things, to the founding of the nation-state known as Vatican City.  The Vatican, understandably, avoids drawing attention to the part played by Benito Mussolini in the creation of its nation-state.

Collaboration with Mussolini was the price Pope Pius XI was willing to pay in order to regain the power and prestige lost by the Catholic Church when Italy became a unified kingdom.  In 1871, at the time of unification, the so-called ‘papal states’ were swallowed up and incorporated into the new Kingdom of Italy. For the next 58 years a succession of popes, incensed at the loss of their territory and thus their power base, refused to recognize a united Italy.  Things changed in 1929, however, when Mussolini indicated a willingness to cut a deal with the papacy.  On February 11, the Italian state and the Holy See (the Vatican’s ecclesiastical designation) signed the Lateran Accords.  The accords consisted of three parts:  a political treaty, a financial convention, and a concordat.  The political treaty ceded territory to the papacy for its own sovereign state to be known  as the Vatican City.  The financial convention awarded substantial financial reparations to the Vatican.  And the concordat granted the Roman Catholic church extensive rights and exclusive privileges.  Roman Catholicism, for instance, was declared the sole religion of Italy.  The accords were signed by Mussolini himself on behalf of the Kingdom of Italy.

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(Photo courtesy Pikabay)

The Vatican City is the world’s smallest nation-state.  It is also called the Holy See, which is its ecclesiastical designation; Vatican City is its political and diplomatic designation. Its area is .44 sq. km.  As of July 2014, its population was 842.  Its form of government is an absolute monarchy, with the pope holding all legislative, executive, and judicial power.

The signing of the Lateran Accords made news worldwide at the time.  An article in the Tuesday, February 12, 1929 edition of The New York Times noted how

[t]he Pope is again an independent sovereign ruler, as he was throughout the Middle Ages, though his temporal realm, established today, is the most microscopic independent State in the world and probably the smallest in all history.

An elated Pope Pius XI, who regarded Mussolini as heaven-sent, gushed,

“The times called for a man such as he whom Providence has ordained that We should meet….It is with profound satisfaction that We express the belief that We have given God to Italy and Italy to God.”

Little did the pope suspect that he had just handed Italy over to another god:  the god of war.

What did Mussolini gain from cutting a deal with the Vatican?  Il Duce (‘the leader’ in Italian) gained the support of a grateful Catholic Church, support which in turn granted the Fascist regime newfound respect and legitimacy.  In 1920s Italy, one could be both a good Catholic and a committed Fascist member at one and the same time, it was believed.  Only later, as Mussolini’s Italy began increasingly to resemble its ally Nazi Germany, did Pope Pius XI develop grave reservations about his support for Il Duce.  Unfortunately, the pope died before he could undo any of the damage.

I believe that Pope Francis is about to make an equally grievous misjudgment.  The pontiff is going to recognize as a nation-state a place which provides a safe base from which to stage terrorist attacks on innocent victims; a place where those who murder and maim Jews are called “heroes” and “martyrs”; a place where children are taught in their textbooks and schools and at their summer camps to hate Jews; a place where youth are told they will one day conquer and reoccupy the whole of Israel; a place where parks and stadiums are named in honour of suicide-murderers.  And this is only the West Bank!

Today, the pope held a private audience with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (a president whose term of office expired a number of years ago, incidentally).  As is customary at the end of an audience such as this, the two exchanged gifts.  Abbas gave the pope relics of the two Arab nuns from Ottoman-era Palestine who are to be canonized by the Catholic Church tomorrow.  The pope, in his turn, gave Abbas a medallion that represented the angel of peace destroying the bad spirit of war.  As he handed him the medallion, the pope reportedly told Abbas the gift was appropriate because he, Abbas, was “an angel of peace.”

But correctly identifying angels can be a tricky business, the pope must know.  As Scripture tells us, even Satan himself may appear as an “angel of light.”