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Nov 13

Future Saudi king tightens grip on power with arrests including Prince Alwaleed

Stephen Kalin, Katie Paul

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s future king has tightened his grip on power through an anti-corruption purge by arresting royals, ministers and investors including billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal who is one of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen.

Prince Alwaleed, a nephew of the king and owner of investment firm Kingdom Holding, invests in firms such as Citigroup and Twitter. He was among 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers detained, three senior officials told Reuters on Sunday.

The purge against the kingdom’s political and business elite also targeted the head of the National Guard, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who was detained and replaced as minister of the powerful National Guard by Prince Khaled bin Ayyaf.

The allegations against Prince Alwaleed include money laundering, bribery and extorting officials, one official told Reuters, while Prince Miteb is accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own companies including a $10 billion deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear worth billions of Saudi riyals.

The allegations could not be independently verified and members of the families of those detained could not be reached.

News of the purge came soon after King Salman decreed late on Saturday the creation of an anti-corruption committee chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his 32-year-old favorite son who has amassed power since rising from obscurity three years ago.

The new body was given broad powers to investigate cases, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions, and seize assets.

“The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable,” the royal decree said.

Analysts said the arrests were another pre-emptive measure by the crown prince to remove powerful figures as he exerts control over the world’s leading oil exporter.

The roundup recalls the palace coup in June through which he ousted his elder cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as heir to the throne and interior minister.

MbS, as he is known, was expected to follow at least by removing Prince Miteb from leadership of the National Guard, a pivotal power base rooted in the kingdom’s tribes.

Over the past year, MbS has become the ultimate decision-maker for the kingdom’s military, foreign, economic and social policies, causing resentment among parts of the Al Saud dynasty frustrated by his meteoric rise.

Saudi Arabia’s stock index was dragged down briefly but recovered to close higher as some investors bet the crackdown could bolster reforms in the long run.

The royal decree said the arrests were in response to “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly, accrue money.”

REFORM AGENDA

The line between public funds and royal money is not always clear in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy ruled by an Islamic system in which most law is not systematically codified and no elected parliament exists.

WikiLeaks cables have detailed the huge monthly stipends that every Saudi royal receives as well as various money-making schemes some have used to finance lavish lifestyles.

Analysts said the purge aimed to go beyond corruption and aimed to remove potential opposition to Prince Mohammed’s ambitious reform agenda, which is widely popular with Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning youth population but faces resistance from some of the old guard more comfortable with the kingdom’s traditions of incremental change and rule by consensus.

In September, the king announced that a ban on women driving would be lifted, while Prince Mohammed is trying to break decades of conservative tradition by promoting public entertainment and visits by foreign tourists.

The crown prince has also slashed state spending in some areas and plans a big sale of state assets, including floating part of state oil giant Saudi Aramco [IPO-ARMO.SE] on international markets.

FILE PHOTO – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Prince Mohammed has also led Saudi Arabia into a two-year-old war in Yemen, where the government says it is fighting Iran-aligned militants, and a row with neighboring Qatar, which it accuses of backing terrorists, a charge Doha denies. Detractors of the crown prince say both moves are dangerous adventurism.

The most recent crackdown breaks with the tradition of consensus within the ruling family, wrote James Dorsey, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“Prince Mohammed, rather than forging alliances, is extending his iron grip to the ruling family, the military, and the National Guard to counter what appears to be more widespread opposition within the family as well as the military to his reforms and the Yemen war,” he said.

Scholar Joseph Kechichian said the interests of the Al Saud dynasty, however, would remain protected.

“Both King Salman and heir apparent Mohammed bin Salman are fully committed to them. What they wish to instill, and seem determined to execute, is to modernize the ruling establishment, not just for the 2030 horizon but beyond it too,” he said.

Many ordinary Saudis praised the crackdown as long-awaited.

OPULENT HOTEL

A Saudi official said former Riyadh Governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah was detained on accusations of corruption in the Riyadh Metro project and taking advantage of his influence to award contracts to his own companies.

Former Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, a board member of national oil giant Saudi Aramco, was also detained, accused of embezzlement related to the expansion of Mecca’s Grand Mosque and taking advantage of his position and inside information to purchase lands, the official added.

Other detainees include ousted Economy Minister Adel Fakieh, who once played a major role in drafting MbS’ reforms, and Khalid al-Tuwaijiri, who headed the Royal Court under the late King Abdullah.

People on Twitter applauded the arrests of certain ministers, with some comparing them to “the night of the long knives”, a violent purge of political leaders in Nazi Germany in 1934.

Bakr bin Laden, chairman of the big Saudi Binladin construction group, and Alwaleed al-Ibrahim, owner of the MBC television network, were also detained.

At least some of the detainees were held at the opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh, said sources in contact with the government and guests whose plans had been disrupted.

The hotel’s exterior gate was shuttered on Sunday morning and guards turned away a Reuters reporter, saying it had been closed for security reasons, although private cars and ambulances were seen entering through a rear entrance.

The hotel and an adjacent facility were the site of an international conference promoting Saudi Arabia as an investment destination just 10 days ago attended by at least one of those now being held for questioning.

The detentions follow a crackdown in September on political opponents of Saudi Arabia’s rulers that saw some 30 clerics, intellectuals and activists detained.

Prince Alwaleed, a flamboyant character, has sometimes used his prominence as an investor to aim barbs at the kingdom’s rulers.

In December 2015, he called then-U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump a “disgrace to all America” and demanded on Twitter that he withdraw from the election.

Trump responded by tweeting: “Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected.”

His father, Prince Talal, is considered one of the most vocal supporters of reform in the Al Saud family, having pressed for a constitutional monarchy decades ago.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=8811

Nov 08

Ex-bishops’ doctrine chief says darkness coming to light under Francis

Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy, a former chief of staff for the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and a current member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, has written Pope Francis to say the pontiff is causing “chronic confusion,” appointing bishops who “scandalize” the faithful, and prompting ordinary Catholics to “lose confidence in their supreme shepherd.”

A former chief of staff for the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and a current member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, has written Pope Francis to say that his pontificate “has given those who hold harmful theological and pastoral views the license and confidence to come into the light and expose their previously hidden darkness,” which, one day, will have to be corrected.

While expressing loyalty to Francis as the “Vicar of Christ on earth, the shepherd of his flock,” Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy nevertheless charges that the pope is:

  • Fostering “chronic confusion.”
  • “Demeaning” the importance of doctrine.
  • Appointing bishops who “scandalize” believers with dubious “teaching and pastoral practice.”
  • Giving prelates who object the impression they’ll be “marginalized or worse” if they speak out.
  • Causing faithful Catholics to “lose confidence in their supreme shepherd.”

“In recognizing this darkness, the Church will humbly need to renew itself, and so continue to grow in holiness,” Weinandy wrote in the letter, which is dated July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the pope’s Jesuit order.

While covering some of the same ground, Weinandy distanced himself from a recent “filial correction” of Pope Francis issued by a group of scholars and theologians over what signatories described as “heretical positions” that they claimed the pope has “effectively upheld.”

Weinandy said he was not invited to sign the letter, had only “heard rumors” of it, and would not have signed if asked.

“I don’t think it was theologically helpful, or presented in an effective manner,” he said.

Although the concerns in Weinandy’s letter are broadly familiar, his background affords him a degree of prominence.

He served as Executive Director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2005 until 2013. Among other things, Weinandy played a key role in a controversial March 2011 bishops’ review of Fordham theologian Elizabeth Johnson, which led to a finding that her book Quest for the Living God “does not accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points.”

In 2014, Weinandy was named to the International Theological Commission, the main advisory body to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by Francis, who also gave him the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal in recognition of service to the Church in 2013.

In comments to Crux, Weinandy insisted that he did not write his letter in any official capacity, and he alone is responsible for it.

“I don’t think anyone can, or should, associate my letter with the USCCB or the American bishops,” he said. “Neither was involved in my writing the letter, and its publication will be news to them.”

After receiving a brief reply in mid-October from Italian Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the “substitute” or number two official in the Secretariat of State, dated Sept. 7 and confirming that Weinandy’s letter had been placed before the pope, Weinandy provided the text to Crux and other media outlets.

In the three-page missive, Weinandy makes five basic points.

First, he tells Francis that in his document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, “your guidance at times seems intentionally ambiguous, thus inviting both a traditional interpretation of Catholic teaching on marriage and divorce as well as one that might imply a change in that teaching.”

“To teach with such an intentional lack of clarity inevitably risks sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth,” Weinandy wrote.

Weinandy also complains that Francis seems “to censor and even mock” those with traditional positions on marriage, styling them as “Pharisaic stone-throwers who embody a merciless rigorism.”

“This kind of calumny is alien to the Petrine ministry,” he said.

Second, Weinandy objects that Francis too often portrays doctrine as “dead and bookish,” and accuses those concerned with upholding doctrine of turning it into an “ideology.”

“But it is precisely Christian doctrine … that frees people from worldly ideologies and assures them they are actually preaching and teaching the authentic, life-giving Gospel,” he wrote.

Third, Weinandy charges, faithful Catholics are “disconcerted” by the appointment of bishops “who seem not merely open to those who hold views counter to Christian belief, but who support and even defend them.”

Faithful Catholics are also demoralized, Weinandy said, when Francis seems “silent” in the face of the “teaching and pastoral practice” of those bishops, whom he does not name, saying such Catholics “are losing confidence in their supreme shepherd.”

Fourth, Weinandy asserts, the kind of decentralization being pushed by Francis undercuts the Church’s unity.

“Encouraging a form of ‘synodality’ that allows and promotes various doctrinal and moral options within the Church can only lead to more theological and pastoral confusion,” he said.

Finally, Weinandy tells Francis he’s stifling legitimate criticism.

“Bishops are quick learners,” he wrote, “and what many have learned from your pontificate is not that you are open to criticism, but that you resent it,” claiming that many bishops don’t speak out publicly for fear they will be “marginalized or worse.”

In an interview with Crux, Weinandy said his decision to write the letter was not easy, and resulted from what he regards as a moment of inspiration.

It came last May, he said, when he was in Rome for a meeting of the International Theological Commission. He said he spent two different sessions in prayer at St. Peter’s Eucharistic Chapel, struggling to decide if he should speak up. In the middle of a sleepless night, he said, he basically gave God an ultimatum.

“If you want me to write something, you have to give me a clear sign,” Weinandy recalls saying. “Tomorrow morning, I’m going to Saint Mary Major’s to pray, and then I am going to Saint John Lateran.  After that, I’m coming back to Saint Peter’s to have lunch with a seminary friend of mine.”

“During that interval, I must meet someone that I know but have not seen in a very long time, and would never expect to see in Rome at this time.  That person cannot be from the United States, Canada or Great Britain.  Moreover, that person has to say to me, ‘Keep up the good writing’.”

Sure enough, Weinandy said, exactly that happened the next day, in a chance meeting with an archbishop he’d known a long time ago but not seen for over twenty years, who congratulated him for a book on the Incarnation and then said the right words, “Keep up the good writing.”

“There was no longer any doubt in my mind that Jesus wanted me to write something,” Weinandy said.  “I also think it significant that it was an Archbishop that Jesus used.  I considered it an apostolic mandate.”

Weinandy is aware that might sound a little pretentious, but says it’s important to illustrate his motives.

“I wanted to assure myself that if I wrote something, it was not simply because I had concerns, concerns that may be unfounded.  If I did write something, I wanted it to be of help to Pope Francis, to the Church, and to the faithful,” he said.

“So, in a sense, I wanted to gain God’s approval, and not simply rely on myself,” Weinandy said. “I feel the story shows that I’m attempting to be helpful.”

Despite what Weinandy told Francis about a fear of reprisals, he said he’s not alarmed about possible fallout for himself.

“I am more concerned about the good that my letter might do,” he said.

As to why he chose to go public, Weinandy said “the letter expresses the concerns of many more people than just me, ordinary people who’ve come to me with their questions and apprehensions,” and “I wanted them to know that I listened.”

Weinandy also said he has no plans to promote his criticism of Francis beyond the letter.

“I have done what I believe God wanted me to do,” he said.

It remains to be seen if Weinandy’s letter will trigger a similar reaction as the “filial correction.” In that case, critics suggested the theologians were overstepping their bounds.

Italian philosophy professor Rocco Buttiglione, who was a close friend and adviser of St. Pope John Paul II, charged the theologians were trying to stand as “judges over the pope,” while theologian Robert Fastiggi and author Dawn Eden Goldstein argued that the authors of the correction violated a 1990 Vatican document titled Donum Veritatis on the proper role of Catholic theologians, which says they should make reservations known only “in an evangelical spirit and a profound desire to resolve the difficulties.”

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=8808

Nov 08

Major Rabbi: Texas Church Shooting Is Battle in “War on Prayer and God”

By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz November 6, 2017 , 11:30 am

“The death of His faithful ones is grievous in Hashem’s sight.” Psalms 116:15 (The Israel Bible™)

The horrific mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people while they were praying in their church on Sunday, brought death directly into a house of worship, waging what one rabbi called an “attack on prayer and the Creator.”

At 11:30, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley approached the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and shot two people outside the church. He then entered the small building and, in the middle of their prayer service, opened fire with a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle. At least 27 people were killed and 20 injured in the small church.

The victims ranged in age from five to 72 years old, with the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter and a pregnant woman reportedly among the dead. The shooting was the deadliest mass killing at a place of worship in modern American history, and the most fatal shooting in Texas.

Kelley was confronted by an armed civilian and fled the scene in a car. Two men drove in pursuit of Kelly until he veered off the road and stopped. When police arrived, they verified that Kelley was dead inside his car, though as of now it is unclear whether he committed suicide or was killed by those pursuing him.

Rabbi Yosef Berger noted that a mass murder in a church during prayer on this scale is unprecedented, indicating that the world is about to undergo a major transition.

“The world is entering a new period leading up to the Moshiach (Messiah) and the old rules no longer apply,” Rabbi Berger told Breaking Israel News. “The laws of nature have been cancelled out and we are seeing a time when natural disasters are commonplace. Rules of how people act, even in the worst of circumstances, have changed.”

The rabbi said that the norms pertaining to bloodshed in the End of Days will change drastically. He cited Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, a Spanish Torah authority from the twelfth century known by the acronym Rambam.

“Rambam hinted at this when he wrote that in the days of the Messiah, three more cities of refuge will be added to Israel,” Rabbi Berger said.

The Torah commands the Jews to establish cities of refuge for those who kill inadvertently to escape revenge from the relatives of their victims. In later days, which Rabbi Berger understands to be those of the Messiah, Israel is commanded to add three new refuge cities.

If you faithfully observe all this Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day, to love Hashem your God and to walk in His ways at all times—then you shall add three more towns to those three. Deuteronomy 19:9

Rabbi Berger believes that this teaching has a direct relevance for the Texas shooting because it indicates that “killing, intentional and unintentional, will become far more commonplace in the days before Messiah.”

“The message is clear,” Rabbi Berger concluded. “We can no longer rely on the rules of man or even the rules of nature. We need to rely only on heaven above.”

Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, a former Knesset member for Shas, decried the act, saying that it cut across all boundaries of religion and was an assault on a basic universal tenet of humanity.

“Any murder is vile,” Rabbi Amsalem told Breaking Israel News. “But to kill people while they are praying to heaven, and it doesn’t matter if it is a church, mosque or synagogue, is an attack on the Creator they are praying to.

“To kill people while they are praying, while they are directing their hearts to God, it is an intentional attack on prayer and can only be done by someone who has no fear of God.”

The rabbi drew a Biblical parallel. “If people like that exist, the world cannot exist,” he explained. “That is precisely why God destroyed the world in the flood. The world before the flood could not go on because it was entirely full of violence and totally empty of God-fearing people.”

The investigation in Sutherland Springs is ongoing and officials are hard-pressed to find a possible motive. Kelley was a former U.S. Air Force member who, according to Defense Department records, was sentenced to a “bad-conduct discharge, 12 months confinement, and two reductions in rank to basic airman” after he was court-martialed in 2012.

With a dishonorable discharge and court martial in his record, it would be illegal for Devin Patrick Kelley to purchase or possess a firearm like an AR-15 in the United States, according to the Gun Trust Lawyer.

An outpouring of support came from Israel for those affected by the shooting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted a condemnation of the “savagery” and pledged Israel’s spiritual support.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tweeted condolences from Spain.

Interfaith leader Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, condemned the killing and called for a response of religious unity.

“Terror that penetrates into a house of prayer is a cruel and terrible terror, a terror that seeks to cut down the faithful lives of innocent people,” said Rabbi Eckstein in a statement.

He emphasized the need for interfaith support at this time. “In such difficult moments, all members of the Jewish and Muslim faith must transcend the gaps and condemn any attack, in order to ensure that such shocking events will not recur again,” the rabbi added.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=8806

Nov 06

As China aims for ‘world-class army’, Asia starts to worry

AFPNovember 1, 2017

China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is expected to enter service in 2020

China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is expected to enter service in 2020 (AFP Photo/ANTHONY WALLACE)

Beijing (AFP) – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge to build a “world-class army” by 2050 is making his neighbours nervous, but analysts say Beijing’s military ambitions do not constitute a strategic threat — for now.

With purchases and construction of fighter jets, ships and hi-tech weaponry, China’s military budget has grown steadily for 30 years, but remains three times smaller than that of the United States.

Now, Beijing wants to catch up.

“We should strive to fully transform the people’s armed forces into a world-class military by the mid-21st century,” Xi told 2,300 delegates of the Chinese Communist Party, which he heads and which controls the army.

The comments, made during the party’s twice-a-decade congress, were aimed in part at domestic nationalists, but also intended to show other countries “China’s desire to be strong economically as well as militarily,” said James Char, a military analyst at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

During China’s so-called Century of Humiliation, starting around the mid-19th century, the country lost almost every war it fought, and was often forced to give major concessions in subsequent treaties.

“That’s why China, more than any other country, dreams of a strong army. Not to bully other countries, but to defend ourselves,” said Ni Lexiong from Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

– Worried neighbours –

But Xi’s call to build a military that can “fight and win” has alarmed China’s neighbours, several of whom are embroiled in tense border disputes with the superpower.

This summer India and China engaged in a bitter, weeks-long military confrontation over a disputed area in the Himalayas.

Japan regularly faces off with Chinese maritime patrols close to the Senkaku islands, which are called the Diaoyu in Mandarin and claimed by Beijing.

And Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, despite rival claims from countries including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Beijing has reclaimed islands it controls in the sea in order to cement its claims and installed military aircraft and missile systems on them, causing tensions to spiral in recent years.

“Chinese activities are a security concern for the region encompassing Japan and for the international community,” said a recent Japanese defence report.

“It is incontestable that the country’s rise as a military power is setting off an arms race in Asia,” said Juliette Genevaz, China researcher at the France-based Military School Strategic Research Institute.

“This arms race in Asia has several causes,” she said, noting North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme as one of the contributors.

But, “China’s military build-up and reclaiming activities in the South China Sea is a major factor.”

China’s military expenditure in 2016 was an estimated $215 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, putting it in first place in Asia, well ahead of India ($56 billion), Japan ($46 billion) and South Korea ($37 billion).

The country has not participated in any conflict since a month-long border war against Vietnam in 1979 that killed tens of thousands of people and a 1988 skirmish, also with Hanoi, over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, that left 64 dead.

But it has been busy boosting its military activities abroad.

This year, Beijing opened its first foreign military base, in Djibouti. Since 2008, its navy has participated in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.

The country is the largest contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations among the permanent members of the security council, with some 2,500 soldiers and military experts deployed.

The moves are all part of a larger, decades-long effort to modernise the country’s military, which had become riddled with corruption, incompetence and waste.

– ‘Absolute control’ –

But while Xi flexed his muscles at the head of China’s central military commission during his first term, he is likely to observe more caution in future, having consolidated his power base by bringing down two of the country’s highest-ranking army officers for corruption, said James Char.

He also reaffirmed the party’s “absolute control” over the army during the recently concluded congress.

“Now that it’s done, he does not need to risk an external crisis any more. Therefore, we can reasonably expect Beijing will conduct less coercive diplomacy in the near- to medium-term,” Char said.

“The Chinese military will continue to operate further and further away from China’s shores, and probably also establish more overseas bases,” he added.

But, while it will continue to aggressively defend its own territorial claims, “it will likely act cautiously abroad and will not engage in overseas constabulary missions such as those carried out by the US military in Iraq or Afghanistan for example.”

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=8803

Nov 06

Pope Francis has abolished hell, purgatory, heaven: papal confidant

October 27, 2017 (Sandro Magister) — In the important newspaper “la Repubblica” of which he is the founder, Eugenio Scalfari, an undisputed authority of Italian secular thought, last October 9 returned to speaking in the following terms about what he sees as a “revolution” of this pontificate, in comments by Francis that are derived from his frequents conversations with him:

“Pope Francis has abolished the places where souls were supposed to go after death: hell, purgatory, heaven. The idea he holds is that souls dominated by evil and unrepentant cease to exist, while those that have been redeemed from evil will be taken up into beatitude, contemplating God.”

Observing immediately afterward:

“The universal judgment that is in the tradition of the Church therefore becomes devoid of meaning. It remains a simple pretext that has given rise to splendid paintings in the history of art. Nothing other than this.”

It is seriously doubtful that Pope Francis really wants to get rid of the “last things” in the terms described by Scalfari.

There is in his preaching, however, something that tends toward a practical overshadowing of the final judgment and of the opposite destinies of blessed and damned.

On Wednesday, October 11, at the general audience in Saint Peter’s Square, Francis said that such a judgment is not to be feared, because “at the end of our history there is the merciful Jesus,” and therefore “everything will be saved. Everything.”

In the text distributed to the journalists accredited to the Holy See, this last word, “everything,” was emphasized in boldface.

At another general audience a few months ago, on Wednesday, August 23, Francis gave for the end of history an image that is entirely and only comforting: that of “an immense tent, where God will welcome all mankind so as to dwell with them definitively.”

An image that is not his own but is taken from chapter 21 of Revelation, but from which Francis was careful not to cite the following words of Jesus:

“The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

And again, in commenting during the Angelus of Sunday, October 15 on the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22: 1-14) that was read at all the Masses on that day, Francis carefully avoided citing the most unsettling parts.

Both that in which “the king became indignant, sent his troops, had those murderers killed and their city burned.”

And that in which, having seen “one man who was not wearing the wedding garment,” the king ordered his servants: “Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the darkness; there shall be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth.”

On the previous Sunday, October 8, another parable, that of the murderous vine dressers (Matthew 21:33-43), had undergone the same selective treatment.

In commenting on the parable during the Angelus, the pope left out what the owner of the vineyard does to those farmers who killed the servants and finally the son: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death.” Much less did he cite the concluding words of Jesus, referring to himself as the “cornerstone”: “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him.”

Instead, Pope Francis insisted on defending God from the accusation of being vindictive, almost as if wanting to mitigate the excesses of “justice” detected in the parable:

“It is here that the great news of Christianity is found: a God who, in spite of being disappointed by our mistakes and our sins, does not go back on his word, does not stop, and above all does not avenge himself! Brothers and sisters, God does not avenge himself! God loves, he does not avenge himself, he waits for us to forgive us, to embrace us.”

In the homily for the feast of Pentecost, last June 4, Francis argued, as he often does, against “those who judge.” And in citing the words of the risen Jesus to the apostles and implicitly to their successors in the Church (John 20:22-23), he intentionally cut them off halfway through:

“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, they will be forgiven.”

Omitting the following:

“Those you do not forgive, they will not be forgiven.”

And the fact that the truncation was deliberate is proven by its repititon. Because Francis had made the exact same deletion of the words of Jesus on the previous April 23, at the Regina Coeli of the first Sunday after Easter.

Last May 12 as well, while visiting Fatima, Francis showed that he wanted to set Jesus free from his reputation as an inflexible judge at the end of time. And to do this he warned against the following false image of Mary:

“A Mary of our own making: one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God; one sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge.”

It must be added that the liberty with which Pope Francis cuts and stitches up the words of Sacred Scripture does not concern only the universal judgment. Deafening, for example, is the silence in which he has always shrouded Jesus’ condemnation of adultery (Matthew 19:2-11 and parallel passages).

In a surprising coincidence, this condemnation was contained in the Gospel passage that was read in all the churches of the world precisely on the Sunday of the beginning of the second session of the synod of bishops on the family, October 4, 2015. But neither in the homily nor at the Angelus on that day did Pope Francis make the slightest reference to it.

Nor did he make any reference to it at the Angelus of Sunday February 12, 2017, when that condemnation was once again read in all the churches.

Not only that. The words of Jesus against adultery also do not appear in the two hundred pages of the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”

Just as no appearance is made in it by the terrible words of condemnation of homosexuality written by the apostle Paul in the first chapter of the Letter to the Romans.

A first chapter that was also read – another coincidence – at the weekday Masses of the second week of the synod of 2015. To tell the truth, those words are not included in the missal. But in any case, neither the pope nor anyone else ever cited them while discussions were being held at the synod about changing the paradigms of judgment on homosexuality:

“Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper. They are filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite. They are gossips and scandalmongers and they hate God. They are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wickedness, and rebellious toward their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know the just decree of God that all who practice such things deserve death, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romani 1, 26-32).

Moreover, at times Pope Francis even takes the liberty of rewriting the words of Sacred Scripture as he sees fit.

For example, in the morning homily at Santa Marta on September 4, 2014, at a certain point the pope attributed to Saint Paul these “scandalous” words: “I boast only of my sins.” And he concluded by inviting the faithful present to “boast” of their own sins, in that they have been forgiven from the cross by Jesus.

But in none of Paul’s letters can such an expression be found. The apostle instead says of himself: “If it is necessary to boast, I will boast of my weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 11:30), after having listed all the hardships of his life – the imprisonments, the floggings, the shipwrecks.

Or: “About myself I will not boast, except of my weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:5). Or again: “He said to me: ‘My grace is enough for you; strength is in fact made fully manifest in weakness.’ I will therefore gladly boast of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9), with more references to the outrages, persecutions, anguish he has suffered.

Coming back to the final judgment, Pope Benedict XVI also acknowledged that “in the modern era, the idea of the Last Judgement has faded into the background.”

But in the encyclical “Spe Salvi,” which he wrote entirely on his own, he forcefully reaffirmed that the last judgment is “the decisive image of hope.” It is an image that “evokes responsibility,” because “grace does not cancel out justice,” but on the contrary “the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life,” because “with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ’s return and for new life become fully convincing.”

And again:

“Grace does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’ Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened.”

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=8801

Nov 06

NATO May Retaliate if Turkey Buys Russian Missiles

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to purchase a Russian surface-to-air missile system could create major problems for NATO, of which his country is a member.

October 30, 2017

Turkey has already agreed to purchase the S-400 surface-to-air missile system, but has not yet signed the contract with the Russian government to complete the transaction, however the head of NATO’s Military Committee is warning of “necessary consequences” if it follows through.

Gen. Petr Pavel said:

“The principal of sovereignty obviously exists in acquisition of defense equipment, but the same way that nations are sovereign in making their decision, they are also sovereign in facing the consequences of that decision.”

Among those consequences could be excluding Turkey from the alliance’s integrated air-defense system, as well as other technical restrictions. The general said he felt it was “fair” for the member countries to have a full discussion of “concerns and potential difficulties.”

Turkey plays a vital role in the NATO development and sustainment of the F-35 Lightning II and the Joint Strike Fighter Program. Many experts have suggested the S-400 system could provide Russia with vital information about the fifth-generation stealth fighter that could impact the alliance’s future operations.

Pavel said his concerns with the potential purchase are “security” focused, saying that the S-400 system, even if it isn’t integrated with the NATO, it “creates challenges for allied assets potentially deployed onto the territory of that country.” The general said, in spite of the current flap over the missile issue, the alliance still considers Turkey to be a “valuable strategic ally.”

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=8799

Nov 01

Astronomy Study Confirms Biblical Account of Joshua’s Sun-Stopping Miracle

By Abra Forman October 31, 2017 , 12:30 pm

“Yehoshua addressed Hashem; he said in the presence of the Israelites: ‘Stand still, O sun, at Givon, O moon, in the Valley of Aijalon!’” Joshua 10:12 (The Israel Bible™)

The Biblical patriarch Joshua ‘stopped the sun’ on October 30, 1207 BCE by way of a solar eclipse that may have been the first recorded in history, Cambridge researchers announced Monday.

In a paper published in the scientific journal Astronomy and Geophysics earlier this month, researchers from England’s Cambridge University confirmed a theory first suggested by Ben Gurion University researchers last January: that Joshua’s miraculous ‘stopping of the sun’ during battle to allow the Israelites more time to defeat their enemies was actually an annular solar eclipse.

They even pinpointed the exact date – the afternoon of October 30, precisely 3,224 years ago.

In the Biblical account, Joshua led the Israelites into battle with the armies of five kings in order to help the besieged Gibeonites, with whom they had signed a pact. As the Israelites began to gain the upper hand, Joshua prayed for the sun and the moon to stand still in order to complete the defeat. His prayers were answered.

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation had avenged themselves of their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. Joshua 10:13

The Cambridge researchers understood this passage as an important historical account.

“If these words are describing a real observation, then a major astronomical event was being reported,” said paper co-author Professor Sir Colin Humphreys from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy. “The question for us to figure out is what the text actually means.”

The British researchers used the original Hebrew Bible to better understand the exact connotations of the verse.

“Modern English translations, which follow the King James translation of 1611, usually interpret this text to mean that the sun and moon stopped moving,” explained Humphreys. “But going back to the original Hebrew text, we determined that an alternative meaning could be that the sun and moon just stopped doing what they normally do: they stopped shining.

“In this context, the Hebrew words could be referring to a solar eclipse, when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, and the sun appears to stop shining.”

He added that the interpretation was supported by the fact that the Hebrew word meaning ‘stand still’ shares a root with a Babylonian word describing eclipses found in ancient astronomical texts.

While historians have long suspected that Joshua’s feat was an astronomical phenomenon, none were able to date the possible eclipse because they were only looking for total eclipses. However, Joshua’s eclipse was annular, meaning that rather than obscure the sun entirely, the moon’s passage in front of the sun was too far away to cover it completely and left a characteristic ‘ring of fire.’

With the help of the Merneptah Stele, an Egyptian artifact which independently confirms the Israelites’ presence in Canaan, historians have dated Joshua’s entry into the land to between 1500 and 1050 BCE. Using complex calculations, the researchers determined that the only annular eclipse visible from the Canaan during that period took place in October of 1207 BCE. The path of this eclipse passed directly over Canaan.

The researchers were thus able to date the exact hour of Joshua’s miraculous feat: between 3:27 PM and 4:53 PM in local time (determined by sundial).

Though there may be a scientific explanation for the Biblical miracle, this in no way refutes its divinity, Rabbi Arieh Trugman told Breaking Israel News when the Israeli research was announced early in the year.

“Despite the fact that in many different areas people want to pit science against Torah, what is much closer to the truth is that in most cases there is no conflict between science and Torah,” said Rabbi Trugman. “It is very common to find many areas in which there exists an amazing confluence of  secular knowledge and Torah wisdom.”

The Cambridge researchers also noted that should the date be accepted by general historians, it could help clarify the dates of pharaonic reigns, including that of Ramses the Great.

According to the calculations and verified with Egyptian records, the reign of the pharaoh Merneptah began in 1210 or 1209 BC, dating the reign of his father, the famous Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses the Great, to 1276–1210 BC, plus or minus one year, the researchers determined.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=8796

Nov 01

Key Kurdish-held border crossing falls to Iranian control, cuts US army land supply line to Syria

Oct 29, 2017 @ 23:03 Iran, Iraqi army, Iraqi-Syrian border crossing, IRGC, Kurds, US army

The Iraqi army and Shiite Hashd Shaabi Brigades militias under Iranian Revolutionary Guards command seized the strategically important northern Iraqi-Syrian border crossing of Faysh Khabur on Saturday, Oct. 28, forcing the Kurdish Peshmerga into another retreat after this month’s fall of oil-rich Kirkuk.

The joint Iraqi-Iranian operation was conducted surreptitiously, masked as an Iraqi military operation “to liberate al Qaim from ISIS” – with which Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi laid a red herring.

This operation, choreographed by Guards General Qassem Soleimani, wrapped up his scheme to round off Iran’s control of the northern sector of that border, in order to achieve four strategic objectives:

  1. To cut off the overland corridor between Iraqi Kurdistan and the three Syrian enclaves ruled by the YPG militia. The Syrian militia is now barred from coming to the aid of its Iraqi brothers, the peshmerga.
    2. To shut the only open door remaining to Kurdish residents wishing to travel outside Iraqi Kurdistan. The Iraqi government has cut all its air links by seizing the international airports of Irbil and Suliemeniyeh and threatening to shoot down any planes using them. The siege of semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdistan is therefore complete.
  2. Faysh Khabur was also the only land crossing the American army had the use of used for moving supplies to US forces stationed in northern Syria. The US army is now left only with air transit.
  3. Iran’s overland bridge to Syria via Iraq is now complete unimpeded by either the US or Israel.

Many people in the Middle East are asking again where were the US Trump administration and its pledges not to let Iran build a land bridge through Iraq to Syria. And where were Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and their tough rhetoric vowing not to allow Iran to deepen its military grip on Syria? While they made speeches and tweeted, Tehran with swift cunning ran off with high-value strategic and military assets.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=8794

Oct 30

Bridge Tying Saudi Arabia to Africa May Need Israeli Signoff

By Jonathan Ferziger

October 25, 2017, 4:18 AM EDT October 25, 2017, 1:25 PM EDT

  • Massive project would span waterway that sparked 1967 war
  • Israel sees Gulf of Aqaba as arena for regional cooperation

Connecting Egypt to a new $500 billion Saudi city via a bridge across the Red Sea will require cooperation from Israel, analysts say. Could it one day help integrate the Jewish state with its Arab neighbors?

Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt guarantees it access to the Red Sea’s Straits of Tiran, which the planned bridge and causeway would cross. That makes Israel’s involvement in the project crucial, says Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies & Diplomacy at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Egypt’s closing of the straits to Israeli shipping in 1967 was one of the central actions that led to that year’s Mideast War.

“There couldn’t be anything close to this unless Israel and the Saudis had the opportunity to discuss in detail their relations and this bridge,” Meital said. “There have to have been back channels.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the project, whose plans were announced Tuesday by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at an international business conference in Riyadh.

Economic Benefits

U.S. President Donald Trump appears to believe Arab nations hold the key to securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and has touted economic ties with Saudi Arabia as one of the benefits Israel could see from a peace deal. Israeli leaders have identified the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba region as an ideal place to cement business ties with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — which, like Israel, all border the waterway.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin addressed the Riyadh conference on Wednesday, and flies to Israel for meetings on Thursday with Netanyahu and other officials. Mnuchin said he is talking to all U.S. allies in the region to work together against “threatening activities” by Iran.

Planning for the 10-kilometer (six-mile) bridge, which would carry road and rail traffic, was made possible by Egypt’s acceptance of Saudi sovereignty last year over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir that sit in the straits between the two countries, in exchange for billions of dollars in aid. Egypt’s four-decade old guarantee of unfettered passage for Israeli ships could create complications for Saudi Arabia under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea if Israel isn’t consulted on the bridge construction, says Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“I have no doubt that there have been consultations, either directly or indirectly, perhaps through the United States,” Henderson said. “As long there is no change in the status quo, Israel is presumably happy.”

Hush-Hush

Netanyahu has repeatedly said that relations with moderate Sunni Arab nations are better than ever — though most of the cooperation can’t be discussed because the countries have no formal ties with Israel.

Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and ambassador to the U.S., Prince Turki al-Faisal, said this week that Netanyahu is exaggerating the extent of Saudi cooperation with Israel and that there are no “under-the-table” talks with the Jewish state. He spoke during an Oct. 22 conference sponsored by the Israel Policy Forum, a liberal advocacy group that distributed a video recording of his remarks.

Israeli business executives say ties with Saudi Arabia are flourishing, particularly in the fields of cybersecurity, infrastructure equipment and water conservation. Many, including Elbit Systems Ltd., Israel’s biggest non-state-owned defense contractor, deal with Saudi Arabia through U.S. subsidiaries and foreign front companies, according to employees, lawyers and Israeli government officials.

“Everybody recognizes the opportunities here, but in order not to ruin them, it’s best not to talk about them at this point,” Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, a close Netanyahu lieutenant and the only Arab member of his cabinet, said in a phone interview. “We want to find a formula to get above the radar.”

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=8792

Oct 30

La Palma volcano panic: Volcanologists monitor subterranean waters as ERUPTION fears grow

VOLCANO experts have begun to monitor the subterranean waters in La Palma over fears the deadly Cumbre Vieja could erupt.

By Rebecca Perring

PUBLISHED: 12:17, Tue, Oct 24, 2017 | UPDATED: 14:48, Tue, Oct 24, 2017 Britain faces mega tsunami threat from La Palma volcano

 A hydrogeochemical monitoring programme has been set up in a bid to strengthen the volcanic monitoring of the Canary Islands volcano.

This programme will see scientists sample subterranean waters and PH levels, conductivity, temperature and radon dissolved gas activity.

The work will be carried out three times a week in four different points of Cumbre Vieja for the subsequent chemical and isotopic analysis of the waters, as well as the gases dissolved in them.

It comes after a flurry of seismic activity beneath the surface saw red-hot magma lift the ground of La Palma. 

LA PALMA VOLCANO: WILL IT ERUPT?

IGN

Volcano experts will examine the subterranean waters

Experts investigating recent tremors – which saw nearly 400 mini earthquakes in 15 hours over the weekend – found the earth has lifted up to 3.5cm in the past year.

And, after four days of inactivity, La Palma recorded another tremor overnight when a 1.9 magnitude quake was felt nine kilometres deep.

There are increasing fears such tremors could spark an eruption from the La Palma earthquake.

Meanwhile, Involcan scientists are set to oversee the chemical and isotopic composition of the gases emanating from a nearby stream ‘Dos Aguas’ at La Caldera de Taburiente every week.

The Canary Islands has been struck by 100s of earthquakes

The stream, located near the deadly volcano, is the degassing point that registers the highest emission of helium-3 in the Canary Islands.

Experts will analyse the samples of gases for their chemical and isotopic analysis at the ITER Geochemical Laboratory.

To date, the geochemical monitoring of these gas emissions was carried out once a year.

A team from the National Geographic Institute (IGN) are monitoring the site around the volcano 24 hours a day.

The seismic activity has prompted concerns the volcano is about to erupt

La Palma volcano MAPPED: Latest pictures of the volcano set to erupt

Thu, October 12, 2017

Fears are growing that the deadly Cumbre Vieja volcano could erupt after a “swarm” of seismic activity hit La Palma

National Geographic institute

1 of 13

A map of The Canaries showing volcanic activity

La Palma’s latest tremor was felt nine kilometres below ground.

There were 44 earthquakes recorded up to 2.1 magnitude hit between last Friday at 1.52pm and Saturday to 4.17am.

But experts believe the total number, including ones too small to be located, within the seismic storm was 352.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=8790