Syria on my mind.

On June 28, 1914, shots rang out in the streets of Sarajevo killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His death would plunge nations into the First World War. Millions died.

Fast forward to 2017, Syria is in the middle of a civil war, a war against terror, and a proxy war all wrapped in a single bloody conflict. I will not pretend to fully comprehend its complexities but, for our purposes, suffice it to say that you have those against the Assad regime, you have Assad and his army, and the terror group ISIS in a three-corner fight of sorts. Russia and Iran support Assad, while the US and the Western nations support various groups seeking the ouster of Assad, or hope to be independent like the Kurds.

Normally, the Syrian conflict should be just that: a conflict between Syrians but the presence of Russia, who actually resurrected its mothballed aircraft carrier to join the conflict, the US and its allies, and Iran, is making this a quagmire worthy of 1914 Sarajevo. While Russia and the US rely mostly on their air and special forces to assist their chosen sides, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards openly cross the border to fight for Assad, or against ISIS. The US and Russia may have thousands of troops in or around Syria. Iran has tens of thousands.

Worse, the conflict is starting to draw in other players. Israel bombed Syrian positions when wayward Syrian rockets flew into its territory. Parenthetically, Israel has also sent overtures to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), which is in its own struggle against Iran for dominance in the Middle East. The Saudis, despite the fact that Osama Bin Laden and al-Queida — the terrorists behind 9/11 — were KSA-linked, is also pro-US. The US is also traditionally pro-Israel. The US also recently approved a billion dollar arms deal with KSA and its president’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal entered into by his predecessor, which KSA dislikes, and his threat to abandon it are all common knowledge.

Recently, the KSA and the United Arab Emirates (UAE or Emiratis) with Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar supposedly because the latter praised Iran (and Israel) and supported terrror groups like ISIS. Qatar denied the accusations but, curiously, the emir of Qatar thereafter called on Iran to congratulate its president for his re-election, which naturally pissed off KSA and the Emiratis. Turkey, which is fast becoming distant from the West, is siding with Qatar. The US president, contrary to what US diplomats were saying about the rift claimed credit for KSA and the Emiratis move to stop terrorist financing from Qatar. Russia appears to be sitting on the fence on this one having interests to protect with both KSA and Qatar; however, it appears to be more sympathetic to Qatar as its diplomats and state agencies have been meeting with their Qatari counterparts after the rift. Still, its energy needs require it to keep itself on the good side of KSA.

Then we have the US Senate passing a bill threatening Russia with sanctions for interfering with US elections. It still has to be approved by the US House of Representatives and Trump but, essentially, it seeks to penalize Russia’s energy program and anyone who assists Russia in said program. This does not sit well with the European Union (EU), especially Germany, who have companies involved in those programs. The EU sees the action as contrary to the agreed approach for joint action of the EU and the US when it comes to sanctions against Russia. It’s bad enough that Trump is alienating his Western allies in NATO. This can openly break the tenuous relationship between Trump and the EU-NATO. Germany has already voiced its concern that the EU can no longer rely on the US for leadership. Trump, with his America First byline, couldn’t care less it seems.

Finally, China and Russia, whom many have interpreted to be the biblical Gog and Magog, have recently decided to create a roadmap to military cooperation, among other things. Russia may no longer be as influential as it was at the height of the Cold War but nobody can deny the growing influence of the resurgent China whose efforts to create a new Silk Road is allowing it to create a sphere of influence from Asia to Africa and Europe. If we stick to the biblical interpretation that China and Russia are Gog and Magog, then they will bring with them a third of the earth. At the moment, Turkey and the Philippines appear to be among those willing to join them.

So, we have the US with KSA and its allies, China and Russia with Syria, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and the 1/3 of the world, the EU acting independently of the US and without the U.K. due to Brexit, and, somewhere out there, Israel, which freely bombs anyone that threatens, or it perceives to threaten, its existence.

Even if Syria is not our generation’s Sarajevo, it is certainly one of the falling dominoes leading to an unimaginable war. With all these interconnections, it is not difficult to imagine someone rightly or wrongly deciding to go after Israel and with that one move pull in the nations with all those strings binding them together into another world war, and where nations are armed with nuclear weapons, it just may be the real war to end all wars.

In a land full of oil, it just takes a wayward match to set things on fire. Some may say that it has all been prophesied and it will be impossible to stop it but I am a man of Faith and, therefore, believe that it does not necessarily have to end in Armageddon. My faith may be the size of a mustard seed but I believe it can move mountains, and we are promised that whenever two or more of us agree on Earth, then so shall it be in Heaven. If God can be persuaded by Lot to stay His hand from judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah, certainly places that seem to deserve God’s judgment, then we can also cry out to our Father to spare us from that terrible judgment.

Yes, Syria has me worried but I still choose to be hopeful about our future.

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The Weight of the Cross

Something strange came up during the run up to the latest US elections that caught my attention: Catholics were being told not to vote for the political party that supports abortion. As a Catholic, one can readily understand where the Church was coming from. The Church has always been, and always will be, against abortion. After the elections, more news articles appeared saying how the Catholic vote propelled Trump to the presidency. Assuming this isn’t all just more fake news, I seem to have a problem with that.

In the Philippines, the Church usually doesn’t identify candidates by name. They just provide the criteria that its members are then supposed to use to guide them in choosing their candidates. I have read similar statement from the US bishops, so, I guess that is the general rule. Whenever a church oversteps itself and engages in partisan politics, then it risks its status as a tax-free entity. I find that being a Catholic in the modern world can be challenging. Sometimes, impossible.

Let’s take the recent elections for example. Yes, we should stand against abortion. That is something we cannot compromise. Does that mean we automatically have to vote for the other party’s candidate? In a one-on-one contest, that seems to be the logical conclusion. However, what if the other candidate has shown himself to be racist, misogynistic and sexist? Are Catholics still obliged to vote for that candidate? Yes, that candidate may well be against abortion, or even same-sex marriages, another Catholic no-no, but if all his other characteristics are just as abhorrent to Catholics, then why would they vote for him?And if they are not obliged to vote for him, then should Catholics simply retreat from this world?

I do not think that that is the solution. Again, first, the point of the whole exercise is for Catholics to vote in accordance with their own conscience. The Church leaders are supposed to guide its people in reaching their respective decisions on who to vote for, or not vote for.

Second, we are supposed to vote in accordance with our conscience. If we consider one candidate more pro-Catholic in his or her views than the other, then it is possible that we simply vote for that candidate. However, if we think that neither of them deserves our vote, then we should just as equally be free note to vote. Not voting is itself a vote. That may mean we are less likely to influence the elections but that would also mean that we remain true to who we are. Other Catholics may reach a different conclusion but that is how the system is supposed to work.

I am troubled by what I am seeing in this world with the rise of populist leaders like Duterte in the Philippines and Trump in the US. Farage in the U.K. and Le Pen in France pose similar threats. I’m sure there is something similar elsewhere. Farage failed in the last U.K. elections but he got the U.K. to vote for BREXIT. Le Pen too failed in France but it was a close call. These days, they may yet win. The danger they pose comes mostly from the fact that they focus too much on themselves (or their country) setting aside what counts as common decency to achieve their objectives. The end justifies the means and they won’t let something like the law get in their way. Of course, the full impact of what this all means are still to be felt. We see glimpses of it in the Philippines with the death of over 3,000 people suspected of involvement in the illegal drug trade, including “collateral damage”, and people being accused without due process. In the U.K. and the US, there were hate crimes reported after BREXIT and Trump’s win. The next four to six years will certainly reveal whether or not this populist experiment, some say revolution, is good or bad.

Today’s readings and gospel appear to calm us in the face of such uncertainties. Yes, things may indeed get worse before they get any better but, in all this, we have to remain faithful. We are to be models for others. We may even suffer persecution but we are reminded that, in the end, we will prevail, which actually brings me to my third and last point.

I do not believe Catholics should withdraw from the world in he face of all these trials and hardships. Instead, as the apostle Paul reminds us, we are to be models for others. If we want more pro-Catholic ideas in this world, then we have to actively promote those ideas. If we want more pro-Catholic candidates representing us, or running this or any other country then we have to have more Catholics involved in politics, not the Church leaders, naturally, but us, and if necessary present ourselves as candidates as well. This, I think, is what it means to evangelize in this day and age. We need to be active participants in the world to keep it safe and to guide it in the right path. We have to bring Catholic culture and beliefs to the fore.

With all that is happening, it is easy to lose focus and simply curse everybody to hell but that is not what we were called to do. In the face of evil, it is easy to condemn. The life of a Catholic, however, is never easy. To be models for others require us to live our faith in the open. To live, act and breath as a Catholic would regardless of where you are in society or the world. We have to know our faith, live it, and share it. That is not going to be easy in an ever increasingly worldly world but we are not alone in this. We are never alone because we rely on the strength that comes from the Lord. So, we endure. We strive. We make this world a better place. That is the cross we bear. It is not heavy though for the Lord also said that whenever we find our load heavy and are weary, we should go to Him, be refreshed, and take His load for His burden is light.

Things may not be the way we want it to be but it doesn’t matter. For us, the only thing that matters is to continue to live our faith in Christ.

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