Israeli minister calls Arab MPs ‘war criminals’

December 11, 2017

AFP

© POOL/AFP/File | Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has long advocated land-swaps in a future peace deal that would see some Arab areas of Israel handed over to the Palestinians in exchange for Israeli retention of some West Bank Jewish settlements

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel’s defence minister on Monday called Arab MPs “war criminals” a day after he urged a boycott of Israeli Arabs living near the scene of clashes over the US president’s Jerusalem declaration.Avigdor Lieberman was speaking in a televised parliamentary debate on a motion of no confidence in the right-wing government filed by the mainly Arab Joint List alliance.

Presenting the motion, Joint List lawmaker Hanin Zoabi said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “should be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, because he is a war criminal.”

“Occupation is always belligerent, violent, illegitimate and a basis for war crimes,” she added, referring to Israel’s 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.

“All the Joint List are war criminals, every one of you,” Lieberman responded.

The alliance has 12 Arab members and one Jew.

“You exploit the weaknesses and advantages of a democratic state to destroy us from within, we have no illusions,” he told them.

“You are here by mistake and the time will come when you will not be here.”

Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land following the creation of Israel in 1948. Today they account for some 17.5 percent of the population.

Lieberman has long advocated land-swaps in a future peace deal that would see some Arab areas of Israel handed over to the Palestinians in exchange for Israeli retention of some West Bank Jewish settlements.

He has also proposed conditioning the Arabs’ continued Israeli citizenship on them taking oaths of loyalty to the Jewish state.

Dozens of Arab Israelis on Saturday night blocked the Wadi Ara intersection in northern Israel, police said, throwing stones at vehicles and burning tyres in protest at Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The windows of a bus were smashed and its driver was slightly injured. Police arrested two minors and a man from Arara, an Arab town in the Wadi Ara area.

Speaking to Israeli army radio the next day, Lieberman proposed collective punitive sanctions.

“Those who demonstrate in Israel holding Hezbollah, Hamas and PLO flags are not part of the state of Israel,” Lieberman said.

“I therefore call on Israeli citizens to impose an economic boycott on Wadi Ara — don’t shop there, don’t eat in the restaurants and don’t buy services from them.”

Jewish Israelis must simply “give them the feeling they’re not wanted here,” he said, noting instances in which Arabs from the area carried out attacks against Israelis or supported militant activities.

Clashes and protests erupted in the Palestinian territories after Trump’s declaration last Wednesday, but there has been relatively little unrest within Israel itself.

 

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European Finance Chiefs Hit Out at U.S. Tax Plans

December 11, 2017

Letter to US. treasury secretary warns reforms could violate double taxation treaties

BERLIN—Europe’s five largest economies on Monday warned the U.S. its planned corporate tax reform could violate the country’s double-taxation treaties and breach world trade rules.

In a letter sent to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and seen by The Wall Street Journal, the countries’ finance ministers said that while tax legislation was an essential pillar of a state’s sovereignty, countries should respect international rules.

“It is important that the U.S. government’s rights over domestic tax policy be exercised in a way that adheres with international obligations to which it has signed-up,” the ministers wrote in the letter. Some provisions of the Senate and House bills, they added, “could contravene the U.S.’s double taxation treaties and may risk having a major distortive impact on international trade.”

Their letter comes after the Senate earlier this month passed a tax overhaul plan that would include about $1.4 trillion in tax cuts, a cut in the corporate rate to 20% from 35%, reshape international business tax rules and temporarily lower individual taxes.

Europeans have repeatedly clashed with the U.S. over trade issues since President Donald Trump took office nearly one year ago on an “America First” platform. While Mr. Trump has pledged to reverse abuses of free trade by what he paints as unscrupulous partners, allies have warned against what they see as protectionist tendencies.

The ministers’ letter, sent on Monday, echoes concerns among European businesses that various aspects of the planned U.S. tax-reform bills might be designed to offer American companies an edge. The U.S. is the European Union’s single most important trade and investment partner.

More

Beijing Sets Plan to Counter U.S. Tax Overhaul

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Last week, the BDI Federation of German Industry, Germany’s most influential business lobby, warned some provisions of the bills ostensibly aimed at curbing corporate tax avoidance had “clearly a protectionist character.”

“Companies in Germany and Europe face massive damage,” Joachim Lang, BDI managing director, warned last Monday.

The ministers took specific issue with provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the tax bill, including proposed excise-tax payments to foreign-affiliated firms in the House version. They also cited a “base erosion” provision in the Senate version that would add tax to cross-border financial transactions.

U.S. companies are holding more than $2.6 trillion in profits across the globe and they haven’t paid U.S. taxes on it. Why is so much money offshore, and how could the tax code be changed to bring it back? WSJ’s tax reporter Richard Rubin dives in. Photo: Heather Seidel/The Wall Street Journal

Those provisions could impact a host of foreign manufacturers that sell their wares in the U.S., like Japanese auto makers or European pharmaceuticals companies.

“The excise-tax and base-erosion-tax provisions appear to have the greatest impact on certain sectors, particularly those with heavy sales in the U.S. but relying on integrated supply chains,” said Albert Liguori, a tax expert at tax advisory firm Alvarez & Marsal Taxand LLC.

Mr. Liguori said software makers like SAP SE, based in Germany, could also get hit. An SAP spokesman declined to comment on potential impact of the U.S. tax plans. The company’s finance chief, Luka Mucic, last month said in an interview that he wanted to avoid speculation. “There are too many moving parts,” he said.

Even without those provisions, the reform would leave U.S. businesses facing lower domestic-tax rates than some of their European peers, putting governments under pressure to reciprocate.

Business is particularly concerned in Germany, where prospects for corporate tax cuts dropped after the collapse of coalition talks involving Chancellor Angela Merkel and the pro-business Free Democratic Party last month.

For years, European governments and the U.S. have sought to combat beggar-thy-neighbor corporate tax policies, agreeing on a series of multilateral initiatives against tax-base erosion and practices by companies to shift their profits to low-tax jurisdiction—initiatives which the signatories of Monday’s letter now fear could be in danger.

In their letter, Germany’s Peter Altmaier, France’s Bruno Le Maire, Italy’s Pier Carlo Padoan, Spain’s Cristóbal Montoro and Philip Hammond of the U.K. contended that several provisions included in the two U.S. tax bills and aimed at combating an array of corporate tax-avoidance practices were protectionist in nature.

A provision of the House bill for a 20% excise tax on payments to foreign-affiliated companies, the Europeans warned, would discriminate against non-U.S. businesses operating in the country, contravene World Trade Organization rules and breach double-taxation agreements.

Likewise, the proposed “base erosion and anti-abuse tax provision” contained in the Senate bill could harm international banking and insurance businesses because it would treat cross-border financial transactions between a company and a subsidiary as nondeductible, subjecting it to a 10% tax, the ministers warned.

The finance chiefs also said a proposed preferential regime for some types of foreign incomes, another provision of the Senate bill, could be seen as an export subsidy banned under international trade rules.

In their letter, they called on the U.S. to see the benefits of continued close international-tax cooperation.

“We explicitly welcome U.S. action in the fight against base erosion and profit shifting. However, we have strong concerns if this is done via measures that are not targeted on abusive arrangements as this would impact on genuine business activities,” they said.

“This may lead to distortions in the international tax consensus as well as the trade and investment environment,” they added.

Write to Andrea Thomas at andrea.thomas@wsj.com

ATM cyber heists hit Pakistan banks

December 11, 2017

This photo shows that HBL ATM software license is not genuine. (AN photo)

ISLAMABAD: An ATM scam affecting hundreds of debit card users in Pakistan has led to several arrests by the country’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which apprehended another four suspects on Sunday.

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FIA official Abdul Ghaffar Mirani told Arab News that investigators have unearthed a scam of about $105,000 and expected the number to rise after digital forensic experts searched confiscated equipment and cloned debit cards used by the scammers.
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Mirani withheld the exact number of people arrested but said that mostly Chinese nationals had been taken into custody. “Our team is probing further as more complaints are pouring in and data is being compiled from other cities,” he said.
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The cyber heist is being dealt with by the FIA’s National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C), the country’s only technology-based crime division, which was set up 10 years ago and assists other law enforcement agencies in Pakistan.
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On Friday, FIA Director Shakeel Durrani said at a press briefing that the investigation had revealed the involvement of Canadian, Nigerian and Italian hackers, as well as an Indian scammer identified as Sorev.
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The information was divulged by Saqibullah, a Rawalpindi resident running a racketeering business, who as their front man sold stolen financial information to the hackers. He is also involved in identity theft, credit debit card cloning and extortion. His arrest has expanded into a FIA investigation searching for his collaborators.
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Durrani said, “The prime suspect (Saqibullah) would take photos of ATM machines to match suitable skimming machines that were ordered from other countries.”
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The cash withdrawals from the hacked accounts were in China, Canada, Italy, Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, US, but were not limited to those countries, he said.
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Revelations of the ATM-skimming scam were revealed last week by the country’s largest financial institution, Habib Bank Limited (HBL), which confirmed more than $105,000 had been stolen from 559 hacked HBL customers, mostly in the cities of Karachi and Lahore.
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Image result for Habib Bank Limited, photos, signage
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“We have more than 10 million customers, which means that the size of the amount missing is not very significant for the HBL, while the number of customers affected is also low, said HBL’s corporate and marketing executive Naveed Asghar, who was reported in a local English daily. “It is a fraud and we must check it and find the culprits … it happens in all the countries that use ATMs,” he said.
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Banks using outdated technology fitted with aging security protocols attracted a “organized foreign group” to hack the ATM booths, suggests the FIA, which is approaching the State Bank of Pakistan, the country’s banking regulator, to introduce biometric policy and enforce it across the banking spectrum.
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An HBL official in Islamabad told Arab News: “The practice of skimming is not new,” but the bank’s new biometric security measures, currently being introduced in its ATMs, “will prevent and curb future hacks.” Though HBL seems to be the main target, Standard Chartered Bank, Faysal Bank Limited, Bank Al Habib Limited and other banks have also fallen victim to cybercrime, he said.
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“Officially the bank hasn’t sent out warning notifications to customers of this continuing fraud but we are compensating the affected account holders. An internal memo has been circulated for each bank branch to check and monitor the ATMs,” the banking officer said.
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US Treasury says Senate tax plan would boost revenue $1.8 tn

December 11, 2017

AFP

© GETTY/AFP | US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Senate version of the Republican’s massive tax overhaul plan will boost economic growth to 2.9 percent over 10 years, which will generate enough additional revenue to offset the tax cuts

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Senate version of the tax overhaul plan would pay for itself over 10 years, boosting growth and generating $1.8 trillion in additional revenues, the Treasury Department said Monday.The Republican plan is expected to generate GDP growth of about 2.9 percent over the next decade, 0.7 percentage points higher than the current forecast, which will bring in more revenue to the government’s coffers and offset the deficit increase caused by lower taxes, according to a Treasury analysis.

Republicans in the House and Senate are working to come up with a final unified version of the reform that President Donald Trump can sign before the end of the year. Both versions call for slashing taxes for corporations and business partnerships while eliminating many deductions for individuals.

“The Administration has been focused on tax reform and broader economic policies to stimulate growth, which will generate significant long-term revenue for the government,? US Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement.

Many economists doubt large tax cuts can pay for themselves, especially in an economy with not much more room to grow. Other estimates have forecast significantly smaller increases in economic growth as a result of the tax overhaul.

The non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the Senate plan could add as much as a $1 trillion to the deficit by 2027.

But according to the Treasury’s analysis, the increased revenues from higher growth should exceed those lost to tax cuts by about $300 billion.

“These increased receipts are primarily collected in the last five years,” the Treasury said in a statement.

“We acknowledge that some economists predict different growth rates,” it added.

Palestinians miss major reconciliation deadline

December 11, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Adel Zaanoun | Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in Gaza City on December 3, 2017, in support of the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, though the two groups then missed a deadline for talks December 10, 2017

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have missed a major deadline in their reconciliation bid by failing to transfer power in the Gaza Strip, with the rivals on Monday trading accusations of blame.US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has further complicated an already difficult attempt to transfer power in Gaza from Islamist movement Hamas back to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip, have seen protests and clashes each day since Trump’s declaration on Wednesday.

Sunday had been the deadline for the handover, a decade after Hamas seized power in the Palestinian enclave in a near civil war with president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank.

An Egyptian-brokered agreement in early October originally set a December 1 deadline for full transfer of power back to the PA, which is dominated by Fagah, though that was later pushed back to December 10.

In Gaza, the situation was essentially unchanged despite the deadline, with Hamas police still patrolling the streets, while crippling electricity shortages endured.

Hamas claimed on Saturday it had handed over control of all government ministries, but Fatah’s top negotiator later said “obstacles” remained.

PA government spokesman Yousef Mahmud said Monday it had not received full control in key ministries.

In a statement on official Palestinian news agency WAFA, he accused Hamas of seeking to stop the handover.

Fawzy Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, told AFP that Mahmud’s statement was an attempt to “cover up the government’s failure to carry out its duties to the people of Gaza”.

Palestinians and international players had hoped that a reconciliation deal could lead to the easing of Israeli and Egyptian blockades on Gaza, reducing the suffering of the two million people largely trapped in the enclave.

Both sides still publicly said they remain committed to the reconciliation, but fears that it could collapse are growing.

– ‘A dead end’ –

They appear no closer to an agreement about the future of Hamas?s vast military wing, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, while they must still resolve the issue of two separate civil administrations.

Abbas has also not yet lifted sanctions against Hamas, including cutting payments for electricity, further worsening an already severe power shortage in Gaza.

There was already little optimism about achieving a full handover by December 10, but Trump’s controversial announcement has added further complications.

The Palestinian government has called for wide-scale peaceful protests against it, but Hamas has called for violence — hailing attacks against Israelis as the start of a new violent intifada, or uprising, against Israeli occupation.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Four Palestinians in Gaza, including two Hamas fighters, were killed either in clashes with Israeli forces or by Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rocket fire on Friday and Saturday.

Naji Sharab, political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said Trump’s move made the reconciliation bid harder.

“Some want uprising and others don’t. Some want a military escalation and some don’t,” he told AFP. “With the Jerusalem issue, they cannot continue.”

Jamal al-Fadi, a politics professor, said he feared the process could now collapse.

“I believe that in the short term it will hold, but the issue of reconciliation will come back to the top of the agenda considering the needs of the people for solutions.”

“It seems that the process has reached a dead end.”

by Adel Zaanoun

 

Democracy Is Far From Dead

December 11, 2017

In 12 years, the share of the world’s people who live in ‘free’ countries has risen.

Democracy Is Far From Dead
PHOTO: RUI VIEIRA/ZUMA PRESS

With recent setbacks in the Philippines, Turkey, Venezuela and elsewhere, it is common to hear laments about the decline of democracy world-wide. Turbulent times in Britain and the U.S. add to the concern, as does the sweeping failure of the so-called Arab Spring since 2011. After major waves of progress in the wake of World War II and the Cold War, is freedom starting to sputter?

Democracy has taken some hard hits. But before we cede bragging rights to autocrats, or persuade ourselves of the need for precipitate action to arrest a perilous strategic slide, we need perspective on what has been happening.

It is true that the “third wave” of democratization—the proliferation of democratic states in the late 20th century—has largely ended. But it has not been reversed by any stretch of the imagination.

Recall the magnitude of what transpired last century. By 2000 about 120 countries, or nearly two-thirds of the nations of the planet, had become electoral democracies. A hundred years before, the total could be counted on a single hand—or less, if one defines democracy as a system of full enfranchisement of women and men of all races.

The 21st century is not off to such a good start. But the net setbacks have been modest. By one measure, according to Freedom House, 25% of all countries were assessed as “not free” in 2016, compared with 23% in 2006.

Yet if one adjusts for population, there has been no setback at all. India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Brazil, with a combined population of two billion, have, for all their admitted troubles, been holding generally steady in recent years. The countries experiencing setbacks have generally been less populous. As a result, the fraction of people living in “not free” countries has declined slightly over the past dozen years, from 37% to 36%, while the total living in “free” countries rose gently, from 44% to 45%. The remainder were in countries deemed by Freedom House to be “partly free.”

Much as we might regret partial setbacks to liberal democracy in Hungary, population 10 million, developments there pale in significance when compared with democratic progress in Indonesia, population 261 million. The big outlier here is Russia, with its 142 million people, where the early signs of liberalism in the mid-2000s have been decisively reversed.

Viewed in broad historical terms, the democratic model continues to excel when measured against all the alternatives. Established democracies almost never go to war with each other, helping explain why the decades since World War II have been among the least violent in human history, at least when it comes to interstate war.

A world of democracies is also proving to be unambiguously good for fighting poverty and strengthening the global middle class. As our colleague Homi Kharas has shown, in 1950 less than 10% of the world’s population could be said to be middle-class—with daily family income between roughly $10 and $100 in 2005 dollars, adjusted for purchasing power. Today the figure approaches 50%. Some of that progress has been within autocracies, notably China. But more than two-thirds of it has been in democratic countries.

Most of these democracies also generally remain united in a common strategic purpose, despite the occasional robust debates over when and how to use force. The U.S. leads a coalition or loose alliance system of some 60 states that together account for roughly 70% of world military spending and a similar fraction of total world gross domestic product. Except in the Middle East, almost all these U.S. allies are democracies. And while the megastate of India is not a U.S. ally in the way that Canada and the U.K. are, it is nonetheless an increasingly close American strategic partner.

Democracies have struggled with corruption, violent crime, poverty, populism, challenges from globalization, and other hard realities of modern life. Democracy does not change human nature. It does, however, generally put us in a much better position to address those problems peacefully.

Witness South Korea, which impeached a president earlier this year but seems no worse for the wear. Or Brazil, dealing with similar political problems in an ugly yet still constitutional manner. Or India, where a strongman leader is nonetheless checked in some of his ambitions by a balance-of-powers system. Or the U.K., where Brexit, itself the result of a democratic choice, seems likely to cause only limited damage.

We do need to learn one lesson from history’s recent sobering course: Democracy is fragile and can never be taken for granted. But declarations about democracy’s demise, or even its significant decline, go too far.

Mr. Jones is vice president and Mr. O’Hanlon director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Program.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/democracy-is-far-from-dead-1512938275

Gaza Rocket Fired Toward Southern Israel

December 11, 2017

No siren went off in warning of the incoming rocket ■ Palestinian media: Israel responds to rocket fire with Gaza strike

Jack Khoury and Yaniv Kubovich Dec 11, 2017 7:18 PM
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Image may contain: night, sky and outdoor

Rocket fired from Gaza toward Israel

A rocket was launched from Gaza and exploded in southern Israel on Monday night, the Israeli military said.

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Injuries were not immediately reported and no siren went off in warning of the incoming rocket.

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Palestinian media in Gaza reported Israeli tank fire at two Hamas positions, one in Khan Yunis and one in Rafah, both located in the southern Gaza Stip.

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Image result for Israeli tank fires, photos

FILE photo of an Israel tank firing. Credit Jerusalem Post

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On Saturday, an attack tunnel that reached from the Gaza Strip into Israel territory was destroyed by the Israeli army. The Israeli military said that it is clear that Hamas was behind the tunnel. This was the second Gaza attack tunnel Israel has destroyed in the past six weeks.

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Israeli military struck Hamas targets in Gaza early Saturday in retaliation for rockets fired from the Strip on Friday evening. Two Palestinian militants belonging to Hamas’ military wing were killed, the group said.

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On Thursday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called on Palestinians to “ignite a new intifada,” after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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More details soon…

Jack Khoury
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.828382

Former Afghan PM slams Iran’s ‘negative’ role

December 11, 2017

In this file photo, former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 4, 2017. (REUTERS)
ISLAMABAD: Former Afghan prime minister and chief of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, said Iran’s role in his country “has always been negative.”
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Tehran “has always preferred continuation of war in Afghanistan… Iran has invested for at least 30 years (on war),” he told Pakistan’s Geo TV.
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“Iran is a party to the war in Afghanistan and supports different groups… Most of the weapons came from Iran after the withdrawal of the former Soviet Union (from Afghanistan),” he said, adding that Tehran is providing weapons to the Taliban.
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“Many countries think their national interests are served by the continuation of the war,” he said, adding that other countries should not bring their rivalries to Afghanistan.
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“Unfortunately some neighbors don’t want an end to the war… so there’s instability, differences among Afghan leaders and a weak government. They’ve been spending on this war for 30 to 40 years,” Hekmatyar said.
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“Pakistan is the only country badly affected by the Afghan war. Pakistan… suffered the most. This war paved the way for the creation of groups that took up arms against Pakistan,” he added.
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“Pakistan wanted to import energy, gas, electricity and oil from Central Asia, but the war has blocked this and Pakistan faces a lot of problems due to an energy crisis.”
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Hekmatyar said the US has achieved nothing from the war: “The US has not only spent billions of dollars, but thousands of their personnel have been killed and injured. I don’t understand what the US wants to achieve from this war.”
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He renewed his offer to mediate between the Afghan government and the Taliban, adding: “We have contacts with the Taliban at different levels. I’m hopeful of progress as we’ve received positive signals from the Taliban.”
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Hekmatyar cited a “change in the Taliban approach to some extent, as the majority of Taliban leaders want peace.”
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He said: “I believe the Taliban have been forced to fight… due to internal and external factors.”
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Tillerson set to meet Trudeau for N. Korea crisis talks

December 11, 2017

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, outdoor

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, looks at China’s President Xi Jinping walks to his seat during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool) The Associated Press

OTTAWA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau next week for talks on how to address the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons, an Ottawa source said on Monday.

Canada and the United States are due to co-host a meeting of foreign ministers in Vancouver in January to discuss North Korea.

During a day trip to Ottawa on Dec. 19 Tillerson will also meet Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said the source, who requested anonymity because the meetings have not yet been formally announced.

North Korea has fired missiles over Japan as it pursues nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. sanctions. Last week it said U.S. and South Korean military drills meant the outbreak of war was “an established fact”. [nL3N1OA05K]

No one in the offices of Trudeau and Freeland was immediately available for comment. The U.S. embassy in Ottawa declined to comment.

Freeland said last month that the Vancouver talks would show the unity of the international community in applying pressure on Pyongyang. [nL1N1NZ2GW]

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Andrew Hay

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, December 12, 2017 — “Do not be afraid. For you have found favor with God.”

December 11, 2017

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Lectionary: 690A

Image may contain: 2 people

Reading 1  ZEC 2:14-17

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.
Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day,
and they shall be his people,
and he will dwell among you,
and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.
The LORD will possess Judah as his portion in the holy land,
and he will again choose Jerusalem.
Silence, all mankind, in the presence of the LORD!
For he stirs forth from his holy dwelling.

Or RV 11:19A; 12:1-6A, 10AB

God’s temple in heaven was opened,
and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth,
to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed.”

Responsorial Psalm JUDITH 13:18BCDE, 19

R. (15:9d) You are the highest honor of our race.
Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God,
above all the women on earth;
and blessed be the LORD God,
the creator of heaven and earth.
R. You are the highest honor of our race.
Your deed of hope will never be forgotten
by those who tell of the might of God.
R. You are the highest honor of our race.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, holy Virgin Mary, deserving of all praise;
From you rose the sun of justice, Christ our Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

OrLK 1:39-47

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

*******************************************

Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Rejoice!

This is a really strange greeting from God to his creature; it seems hard to explain and perhaps even senseless. And yet, for centuries it resonated in the pages of Sacred Scripture and thus also on the lips of the Hebrew people. Rejoice, be glad, exult! Many times the prophets had repeated this gentle breath of God and had shouted the silent beat of his heart for his people, his remnant. I read this in Joel: “Land, do not be afraid; be glad, rejoice, for Yahweh has done great things… (2: 21-23); in Zephaniah: “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! Yahweh has repealed your sentence” (3: 14); in Zechariah: “Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion, for now I am coming to live among you – Yahweh declares!” (2, 14).

I read and listen to it, today, I say it also in my heart, in my life; a joy is announced to me, a new happiness, never before experienced. I rediscover the great things that the Lord has done for me; I experience the freedom that comes from his pardon: I am no longer sentenced, but graced forever; I live the experience of the presence of the Lord next to me, in me. Yes, He has come to dwell in our midst; He is once more setting up his tent in the land of my heart, of my existence. Lord, as the Psalm says, you rejoice in your creatures (Ps 104: 31); and I too rejoice in you, thanks to you, my joy is in you (Ps 104: 34).

● The Lord is with you

These simple and enlightened words pronounced by the angel to Mary, liberate an all-powerful force; I realise that these words alone would suffice to save my life, to lift me up again from whatever fall or humiliation, to bring me back when I go astray. The fact that He, my Lord, is with me, keeps me alive, gives me courage and trust to go on being. If I am, it is because He is with me. Who knows but that the experience of Isaac told in Scripture might not be valid for me, the most beautiful thing imaginable that could happen to a person who believes in and loves God, when one day Abimelech came to Isaac with his men to tell him: “It became clear to us that Yahweh was with you” (Gen 26: 28) and then asked to become friends and form an alliance.

Would that the same thing might be said of me; would that I could show that the Lord is truly with me, in my life, in my desires, in my affections, in my choices and actions; would that others might meet Him through me. Perhaps for this, it is necessary for me to absorb more the presence of God, for me to eat and drink of Him.

Let me go to the school of Scripture, to read and re-read some passages where the voice of the Lord tells me again and again of this truth and, while He speaks, to be transformed, ever more in-dwelt. “Remain for the present in that country; I shall be with you and bless you” (Gen 26: 3). “To Joshua son of Nun, Yahweh gave this order: Be strong and stand firm, for you are to be the one to bring the Israelites into the country which I have promised them on oath, and I myself shall be with you” (Dt 31: 23). “They will fight against you but will not overcome you, because I am with you to save you and rescue you” (Jer 15: 20). “The angel of Yahweh appeared to him and said: Yahweh is with you, valiant warrior!” (Judges 6: 12). “Yahweh appeared to him the same night and said: I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I shall bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake” (Gen 26: 24). “Be sure, I am with you; I shall keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this country, for I shall never desert you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen 28: 15). “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; do not be alarmed, for I am your God. I give you strength, truly I help you, truly I hold you firm with my saving right hand” (Is 41: 10)

● Do not be afraid

The Bible is packed with this pronouncement full of kindness; like a river of mercy, these words are found throughout the sacred books, from Genesis to the Apocalypse. It is the Father who repeats to his children not to be afraid, because He is with them, he will not abandon them, he will not forget them, He will not leave them in the hands of their enemies. It is like a declaration of love from God to humanity, to each one of us; it is a pledge of fidelity that is relayed from hand to hand, from heart to heart, and finally comes down to us. Abraham heard these words and after him his son Isaac, then the patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon and, with them, Jeremiah and all the prophets. No one is excluded from this embrace of salvation that the Father offers his children, even those furthest from him, most rebellious against him. Mary knows how to listen to these words and knows how to believe full of faith, in an attitude of absolute surrender; She listens and believes, welcomes and lives for us too. She is the strong and courageous woman who opens herself to the coming of God, letting go of all fears, incredulity and a closed spirit. She repeats these same words of God in our lives and invites us to believe like her.

● You enjoy God’s favour

“Lord, if I enjoy favour in your sight…”. This is the prayer that time and time again comes out of the lips and hearts of those who seek refuge in the Lord; the Scriptures tell us about such people, we come across them in our crossroads when we know not where to go, when we feel hounded by solitude or by temptation, when we experience abandonment, betrayals, heavy defeats of our own existence. When we no longer have anyone and we fail to find even ourselves, then we too, like them, find ourselves praying by repeating these same words: “Lord, if I enjoy favour in your sight…”. Who knows how often we have repeated these words, even alone and in silence. But today, here, in this simple passage of the Gospel, we are forestalled, we are welcomed in anticipation; we need no longer plead, because we have already found everything that we always sought and much more. We have received freely, we are overwhelmed and now we can overflow.

● Nothing is impossible to God

I have nearly come to the end of this strong journey of grace and liberation; I now come across a word that shakes me in my depths. My faith is being sifted; the Lord is testing me, scrutinising me, testing my heart. What the angel says here in front of Mary, had already been proclaimed many times in the Old Testament; now the time has come for the fulfilment, now all the impossible things come to pass. God becomes man; the Lord becomes friend, brother; the distant is very close. And I, even I, small and poor as I am, am given to share in the immensity of this gift, this grace; I am told that in my life too the impossible becomes possible. I only have to believe, to give my consent. But this means that I have to allow myself to be shattered by the power of God; to surrender to Him, who will transform me, free me and renew me. Not even this is impossible. Yes, I can be reborn today, here and now, by the grace of the voice that has spoken to me, that has reached me even to the very depths of my heart. I seek and transcribe the passages of Scripture that repeat this truth. And as I write them, as I re-read them and say them slowly, devouring every word, and what they say takes place in me… Genesis 18: 14; Job 42: 2; Jeremiah 32: 17; Jeremiah 32: 27; Zechariah 8: 6; Matthew 19: 26; Luke 18: 27.

● Here I am

Now I cannot escape, nor can I avoid the conclusion. I knew from the beginning that here, in this word, so small and yet so full, so final, that God was waiting for me. The appointment of love, of the covenant between Him and me had been fixed precisely on this word, just a gentle voice, just a kiss. I am unsettled by the richness of the presence I feel in this “Here I am!”; I need not make much effort to recall the number of times that God first pronounced and repeated these words to me. He is the ‘Here I am’ made man, absolutely faithful, unforgettable. I only need to tune into him, only find his footprints in the sand of my poverty, of my desert; I only need to welcome his infinite love that never ceases to seek me, to stay close to me, to walk with me wherever I go. The ‘Here I am’ has already been pronounced and realised, it is already real. How many before me and how many today have experienced this! I am not alone. I still remain silent, listening before I reply…

“Here I am!” (Is 65: 1) God repeats; Mary replies, “Here I am, I am the servant of the Lord”; and Christ says, “I come to do your will” (Ps 39: 8)…

A TIME OF PRAYER: PSALM 138

Ref. Father, into your hands I commend my life.

Yahweh, you examine me and know me,
you know when I sit, when I rise,
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You watch when I walk or lie down,
you know every detail of my conduct.
A word is not yet on my tongue before you,
Yahweh, know all about it.
You fence me in, behind and in front,
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such amazing knowledge is beyond me,
a height to which I cannot attain.
Where shall I go to escape your spirit?
Where shall I flee from your presence?
If I scale the heavens you are there,
if I lie flat in Sheol, there you are.

You created my inmost self,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
For so many marvels I thank you;
a wonder am I, and all your works are wonders.
You knew me through and through,
How hard for me to grasp your thoughts,
how many, God, there are!
If I count them, they are more than the grains of sand;
if I come to an end, I am still with you.
God, examine me and know my heart,
test me and know my concerns.
Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin,
and guide me on the road of eternity.

CLOSING PRAYER

Father, you came down to me, you have come to me, you have touched my heart, you have spoken to me and promised joy, presence and salvation. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, who overshadows me, I, together with Mary, have been able to say to you yes, the ‘Here I am’ of my life for you. Now there remains only the force of your promise, of your truth: “You are to conceive and bear Jesus”. Lord, here is the womb of my life, of my being, of all that I am and have, open before you. I place all things in you, in your heart. Enter, come, come down again, I beg you, and make me fruitful, make me one who gives birth to Christ in this world. May the overflowing love I receive from you find its fullness and truth in touching the brothers and sisters that you place beside me. May our meeting, Father, be open, a gift to all. May Jesus be the Saviour. Amen.

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-annunciation-lord

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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12 DECEMBER, 2016, Monday, 3rd Week of Advent
THE AUTHORITY OF A TRUE PROPHET

SCRIPTURE READINGS: NUM 24:2-715-17MATTHEW 21:23-27   ]

As we enter the third week of Advent, we read of the prophets announcing the coming of the Messiah.  How much can we trust in their prophecies with regard to the coming of Christ?  We are told that the Jewish religious leaders refused to accept the prophecies of John the Baptist.  Similarly, they could not accept Jesus as well. They questioned the authority of Jesus, “What authority have you for acting like this? And who gave you this authority?”   Today, we also have many prophets in our midst claiming to speak in the name of God.  How do we know who are the true prophets or that we are called to be prophet?  How do we know that they are truly acting in the name of God?

The true prophet must be one who hears the Word of God.  No one can claim to be a prophet of God unless he is docile to the Word of God.   Balaam prefaced his prophecy thus, “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man with far-seeing eyes, the oracle of one who hears the word of God. He sees what Shaddai makes him see, receives the divine answer, and his eyes are opened.”   For this reason, the prophet must be a prayerful person.  He must be in tune with the Word of God.  Someone who hardly prays and who hardly meditates on the Word of God can only utter his own opinions and interests.  If we seek to be true prophets, we need to make time to withdraw into the wilderness to sit before the Lord and hear Him speaking to us.

Most of the time, false prophets mistake their own voice for the voice of God.  Before one can claim to speak the voice of God, it presupposes we have spent time in prayer and discernment.  Otherwise, our hidden and unconscious motives and fears will dictate our wills and minds.  Indeed, the prayer of the psalmist must be the prayer of the prophet every day.  “Lord, make me know your ways. Lord, teach me your paths.  Make me walk in your truth, and teach me: for you are God my saviour.”   St John the Baptist regarded himself only as the voice of God.  He reminded us that Jesus is the Word but that he was just the voice that carried the Word of God to humanity.   As the voice of God, he was only a channel and a servant, not the master of the Word of God.   Jesus as the Word of God in person lived by the Word of His Father. He was always in constant communion with His Father in prayer and intimacy even in the midst of His hectic and strenuous ministry.

Secondly, a true prophet must be true to what he has heard from God.  He cannot speak anything from himself but only from what he has heard.  Indeed, the prophet Balaam was offered money and riches to curse Israel. “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.”  (Num 22:18)  But God told him to bless Israel instead.  As a prophet, he had to obey God because he knew the mind of God.  To do otherwise would be to contradict himself and offend God.  Obedience to authority is the sign of a true prophet.  Of course, obedience is only rendered to those things that are not immoral.  When it comes to decision-making, the sign of a true prophet is when he is able to defer to the legitimate authority even when he is not in agreement.  Except in matters of conscience, dissent sometimes could be masked.  Balaam, although attracted to the riches offered by the pagan king initially, could not do otherwise than to speak the truth.  Jesus too, out of obedience to His Father, assumed our humanity and throughout His life, He sought only to do the Father’s will.  Whatever the Father willed, He willed and He spoke what the Father commanded Him to do. “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”  (Jn 5:19)

Thirdly, a true prophet must speak without fear or favor.  This was the case of Balaam who spoke out against the king despite all his warnings.  He was not afraid to offend authorities in speaking the truth.  All the prophets in the Old Testament would only speak the truth to the kings and nobles, especially the need for conversion and the consequences of being conquered by their enemies.   Even when the kings refused to listen, they would not keep silent until their prophecy came true.  Whereas the false prophets only said things that the king wanted to hear.   They fawned on the king and gave him false security, just like many of us too who would not tell our superiors the truth for fear that we lose favour with them.  But a true prophet must speak what is good and true for the people.  John the Baptist was a true prophet because even at the risk of losing his head, he spoke out against King Herod for his misconduct and all those who abused their authority.  Jesus in the same way did not mince His words when He reprimanded the religious leaders for their hypocrisy.   He did not say nice things to those who failed to live up to their responsibilities.

Fourthly, a true prophet must walk the talk.  This is the clearest sign of a real prophet; not what he says but whether he does what he says.  If he is so convinced that he has heard the voice of God then he should be the first to put that word into practice.  Those prophets who live a double life are hardly credible because they disown their message by their actions. Jesus and the true prophets lived out what they preached and were mentors for others.  It was for this reason that the religious leaders tried to avoid answering the question of Jesus with regard to the identity of John the Baptist.  On one hand they refused to accept the baptism of John, on the other hand, if they denied that he was a prophet, the people would reject them.  In the same vein, Jesus knew that trying to prove His identity would not go very far.  So the real proof of a true prophet is in his or her actions.  A prophet by deeds is itself a great testimony to the truth.  Jesus’ identity was shown by His actions.  This was what Jesus told the Jews, that even if they could not accept His words, at least they should recognize from His works that He came from the Father.

Finally, a true prophet speaks the truth from his heart.  He does not compromise when truth must be spoken, even if it offends others.  The real problem in the world today is that many of us are afraid to articulate the truth for fear of rejection.   Like the religious leaders, we all pretend to be ignorant of the truth.  The Jewish religious leaders did not want to answer Jesus’ question, for if they were to admit that the authority of John the Baptist came from God, they had to accept the authority of Jesus as the Messiah because John had made definite references to the Messiah.  With them we say,  “We do not know.”   If we are silent it is because we are afraid of rejection, isolation and losing our popularity.   False prophets are not concerned about speaking the truth, but whether it is safe to say the truth.  We are afraid to be martyrs for Christ and for the truth.  Today, most of us speak equivocally so that we can protect ourselves.  This is called being politically correct.  We want to dilute the truth.

As we approach the season of Christmas, we must seek integrity of life.  The coming of Christ cannot give us peace if we continue to live a double life.  So long as we are not true to ourselves, there can be no joy and happiness in us.  Balaam, although tempted to speak against Israel, realized that he could not do it just for the rewards but he had to find peace by listening to the Word of God.  So too did John the Baptist.  During this time of Advent, we must spend time listening to the Lord so that He can lead us to the truth.  The psalmist says, “The Lord is good and upright. He shows the path to those who stray. He guides the humble in the right path, He teaches his way to the poor.”  Let us be courageous and face the truth about ourselves.  If there are areas in our lives that need repentance, let us with God’s grace make the necessary changes.  May we live our lives in such a way that we can be true prophets of Christ speaking the truth and living out the truth in love.  In this way, we regain our authority to speak and act in Christ’s name.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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12 DECEMBER, 2017, Tuesday, 2nd Week of Advent

THE HEART OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 40:1-11PS 96:1-3,10-13MT 18:12-14  ]

Advent is a season of hope.  It is hope that keeps us going in life.  This is especially true when we are going through difficult times.  Indeed, this was the case of the Israelites in exile.  They were without land, kingdom, Temple and many were separated from their loved ones.  They were punished by the consequences of sin because they failed to listen to the warnings of the prophets that God sent to them.

But not all is lost because again and again, God showed His mercy for His people.  This is the heart of God, the heart of the Good Shepherd. In the gospel, God is portrayed not just as a Good Shepherd but one who sought the lost sheep. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus made it clear that any good shepherd would leave the ninety-nine behind to search for the stray sheep.  Logically, one might wonder whether it is prudent for him to abandon the other ninety-nine sheep just to look for the lost one.  Yet, the point of the parable is that God does not see us all in terms of a crowd.  God does not love a crowd but He loves individuals.  He regards every person in the community as a unique individual that must be given personal attention.  We are not just a digit among the many to God.  Rather He knows each of us individually.  Everyone is important to Him.

Among us all, God has a special love for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable and the lost.  God always stand up for those who are marginalized in society, the voiceless and the helpless.  These are the people that win the heart of God.  This explains why the Church always has a preferential option for the poor.  “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,  so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”  (1 Cor 1:27-29)  St Paul gives us another analogy with regard to the body.  “Those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.”  (1 Cor 12:23-25)  It is because they need more care and love that the Father finds greater joy in finding the lost sheep than the ninety-nine who did not stray at all.  “I tell you solemnly, if he finds it, it gives him more joy than do the ninety-nine that did not stray at all.”

Indeed, the heart of God is the heart of a father and a mother.  Those of us who are parents perhaps can understand and feel much more with the compassion of God for us.  All parents, especially mothers, have deep affection and compassion for their children.  All mothers love their children regardless of their intelligence or abilities; more so if their children are physically or mentally challenged.  Often, the weaker child in the family is given more attention than those who are strong and capable.  In many cases, the family is united in love when there is someone in the house who is sick and vulnerable.  In some families where there is a child who is physically challenged, the rest of the family members will rally round to provide care for that helpless child.  Indeed, those who are weak and vulnerable are the ones who will win our love more so than the healthy and strong.  This explains why Jesus told us that we must become like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of God.  There is so much joy in helping those who are weak.  To know that we have made a great difference in the life of that person brings us much joy because it opens and expands the human heart.  This is why those who help the poor or have gone on mercy trips to third world countries continue to do so because the tremendous joy that they receive in seeing how the poor and underprivileged are helped give them greater meaning in life.

If we still cannot understand the heart of God for the lost sheep and the weak brothers and sisters of ours, then perhaps another example in daily life can help.  I have been reflecting on why Jesus gave the example of a lost sheep.  I am sure many of us have had the experience of being lost somewhere when we were young or even as an adult.  The feeling of being lost is an unnerving experience.  So too, we can imagine how frightened the sheep must have felt when it lost its way.  Such an image of a lost sheep surely can bring out the compassion in us.  Indeed, there are some people who have a special love for stray cats and dogs because the sight of them suffering in the cold, sun and rain without food brings out their compassion for them.  This is particularly so when you see a helpless cat or dog in pain because he is injured or sick.

So if we feel lost, forsaken or vulnerable, we are invited to come to the Lord.  He will look after us and He will come to save us.  This is what the prophet assures us, “Here is your God.  Here is the Lord coming with power, his arm subduing all things to him. The prize of his victory is with him, his trophies all go before him. He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.”   God is ever ready to bring us back and restore us to life.  Jesus assures us, “similarly, it is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”   How beautiful and consoling these assuring words of our Lord are; that God will care even for the little ones and that none be lost.  This is again reiterated in the gospel of John, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”  (Jn 6:39)

But what is needed is availability on our part.  God does not impose His grace on us.  Do we want help?  This is the question.  Are we receptive to His help?  If we are, then as the prophet says, “Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges a valley; then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  In other words, we must allow the Lord to enter into our lives.  This requires humility on our part by levelling off the mountain of our ego.  It means that we must be in touch with the emptiness in our hearts so that He could fill the valley of our lives.  Only when we allow Him to come into our hearts, can our lives be made anew.

Secondly, we need to have faith in the Lord the power of the Lord.  Let us take heart by listening to those inspiring testimonies of how God has worked in peoples’ lives.  With the psalmist, we must rejoice that our God is coming with power.  With the psalmist, we must sing praise to God.  “O sing a new song to the Lord, sing to the Lord all the earth. O sing to the Lord, bless his name. Proclaim his help day by day. Tell among the nations his glory and his wonders among all the peoples. Proclaim to the nations: ‘God is king.’ He will judge the peoples in fairness. Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad, let the sea and all within it thunder praise, let the land and all it bears rejoice, all the trees of the wood shout for joy at the presence of the Lord for he comes, he comes to rule the earth.”

Thirdly, let us trust in the Word of the Lord.  “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double punishment for all her crimes.”  God suffers when we suffer, just like parents suffer when their children suffer.  So God wants to lift us out of our sorrows.  He is true to His Word as the prophet says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains forever.”  So let us strengthen our faith by embracing the Word of God and finding hope and inspiration in His promises as we open our hearts to His invitation to repent and turn to Him.   Finally, let us in turn give hope to those who are lost and are lonely.  We too must welcome them like Jesus who went in search for us.  Giving hope to someone during this season of Advent will in turn help us to rekindle the joy of a compassionate heart. In giving hope and life to others, we too will be filled with the joy of the gospel.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. She is depicted with brown skin, an angel and moon at her feet and rays of sunlight that encircle her. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous man named Juan Diego on Dec. 9, 1531.Dec 12, 2013.
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The opening of the New World brought with it both fortune-seekers and religious preachers desiring to convert the native populations to the Christian faith. One of the converts was a poor Aztec Indian named Juan Diego. On one of his trips to the chapel, Juan was walking through the Tepayac hill country in central Mexico. Near Tepayac Hill he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in his native tongue, the beautiful lady identified herself:

“My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother’s Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard.”

Juan, age 57, and who had never been to Tenochtitlan, nonetheless immediately responded to Mary’s request. He went to the palace of the Bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumarraga and requested to meet immediately with the bishop. The bishop’s servants, who were suspicious of the rural peasant, kept him waiting for hours. The bishop-elect told Juan that he would consider the request of the Lady and told him he could visit him again if he so desired. Juan was disappointed by the bishop’s response and felt himself unworthy to persuade someone as important as a bishop. He returned to the hill where he had first met Mary and found her there waiting for him. Imploring her to send someone else, she responded:

Our Lady of Guadalupe Image“My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen.” She then told him to return the next day to the bishop and repeat the request. On Sunday, after again waiting for hours, Juan met with the bishop who, on re-hearing his story, asked him to ask the Lady to provide a sign as a proof of who she was. Juan dutifully returned to the hill and told Mary, who was again waiting for him there, of the bishop’s request. Mary responded:

“My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear. The Bishop shall have his sign. Come back to this place tomorrow. Only peace, my little son.” Unfortunately, Juan was not able to return to the hill the next day. His uncle had become mortally ill and Juan stayed with him to care for him. After two days, with his uncle near death, Juan left his side to find a priest. Juan had to pass Tepayac Hill to get to the priest. As he was passing, he found Mary waiting for him. She spoke:

“Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time. There is no reason for you to engage a priest, for his health is restored at this moment. He is quite well. Go to the top of the hill and cut the flowers that are growing there. Bring them then to me.” While it was freezing on the hillside, Juan obeyed Mary’s instructions and went to the top of the hill where he found a full bloom of Castilian roses. Removing his tilma, a poncho-like cape made of cactus fiber, he cut the roses and carried them back to Mary. She rearranged the roses and told him:

“My little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that with this sign I request his greatest efforts to complete the church I desire in this place. Show these flowers to no one else but the Bishop. You are my trusted ambassador. This time the Bishop will believe all you tell him.” At the palace, Juan once again came before the bishop and several of his advisors. He told the bishop his story and opened the tilma letting the flowers fall out. But it wasn’t the beautiful roses that caused the bishop and his advisors to fall to their knees; for there, on the tilma, was a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary precisely as Juan had described her. The next day, after showing the Tilma at the Cathedral, Juan took the bishop to the spot where he first met Mary. He then returned to his village where he met his uncle who was completely cured. His uncle told him he had met a young woman, surrounded by a soft light, who told him that she had just sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She told his uncle:

“Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe”.

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It’s believed that the word Guadalupe was actually a Spanish mis-translation of the local Aztec dialect. The word that Mary probably used was Coatlallope which means “one who treads on snakes”! Within six years of this apparition, six million Aztecs had converted to Catholicism. The tilma shows Mary as the God-bearer – she is pregnant with her Divine Son. Since the time the tilma was first impressed with a picture of the Mother of God, it has been subject to a variety of environmental hazards including smoke from fires and candles, water from floods and torrential downpours and, in 1921, a bomb which was planted by anti-clerical forces on an altar under it. There was also a cast-iron cross next to the tilma and when the bomb exploded, the cross was twisted out of shape, the marble altar rail was heavily damaged and the tilma was…untouched! Indeed, no one was injured in the Church despite the damage that occurred to a large part of the altar structure.

In 1977, the tilma was examined using infrared photography and digital enhancement techniques. Unlike any painting, the tilma shows no sketching or any sign of outline drawn to permit an artist to produce a painting. Further, the very method used to create the image is still unknown. The image is inexplicable in its longevity and method of production. It can be seen today in a large cathedral built to house up to ten thousand worshipers. It is, by far, the most popular religious pilgrimage site in the Western Hemisphere.

http://www.catholic.org/about/guadalupe.php