Thursday, December 31, 2015

Major cities are canceling New Year's Eve celebrations in the wake of recent terrorist attacks

Reuters/Francois LenoirA worker dismantles equipment that would have been used to celebrate New Year in central Brussels, December 31, 2015. Authorities in the Belgian capital Brussels on Wednesday called off the city's traditional New Year's Eve fireworks display, citing fears of a militant attack.

In the shadow of horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, several major cities have canceled their New Year's Eve celebrations.

Brussels and Paris have scrapped their fireworks displays entirely, while much of Europe will welcome 2016 in a subdued fashion.

Belgium canceled official festivities on Wednesday in its capital due to significant risk of a terrorist act, Bloomberg reported.

The termination of Brussels' fireworks came as police detained eight suspects and members of a motorcycle club called the Kamikaze Riders in connection with a New Year’s Eve plot, IBTimes UK reported.

Belgium remains at the core of the investigation surrounding the November 13 Paris attacks that left 130 people dead after two of the suicide bombers, Brahim Abdeslam and Bilal Hadfi, were tied to Brussels.

Grief-stricken Paris has also canceled its main fireworks display. A smaller celebration, however, involving a five-minute video performance shown on screens along Champs-Élysées will still take place, Sky News reported.

Approximately 600,000 people typically gather around the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Champs-Élysées to ring in the new year, according to Sky News.

REUTERS/Charles PlatiauArmed French soldiers patrol in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, December 30, 2015,

While Turkey has yet to cancel festivities, the nation remains on high alert after authorities found suicide vests and bombs during a raid on two suspected ISIS militants believed to have crossed into Turkey from Syria.

Despite threats, however, some cities kept celebrations as planned.

On Thursday, Emanuel Lutchman, a 25-year-old man who planned to attack a restaurant in New York, on New Year's Eve was detained and charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS.

According to the Justice Department, Lutchman purchased two black ski masks, zip-ties, two knives, a machete, duct tape, ammonia, and latex gloves for the planned attack.

US Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. of the Western District of New York had a message for others who may be planning to provide support to ISIS: "You will be caught, you will be prosecuted, and you will be punished."


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Catholic priest forced to repent after using hoverboard in church

Published on Dec 29, 2015

A Catholic priest in the Philippines has apologised after riding a hoverboard during Christmas Eve mass.

The unnamed 'holy roller' was filmed riding up and down the nave of his Laguna church with a microphone singing, "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You" to applause from the congregation.

The video was posted by religious organisation NOVUS ORDO Insider on its Facebook page on Sunday with the caption, "This calls for a reparation! Instead, pray a rosary for this priest and attend a Traditional Latin Mass."

Church officials at the Diocese of San Pablo were not pleased.

"That was wrong," the diocese declared in a statement posted online. "The Eucharist is not a personal celebration where one can capriciously introduce something to get the attention of people."

The priest said the controversy was "a wake-up call", according to church officials.

"He acknowledged that his action was not right and promised that it will not happen again," the diocese said.

"He will be out of the parish and will spend some time to reflect on this past event."


Iran's Rouhani to visit Vatican in January


December 22, 2015 8:41 AM

Hassan Rouhani will make his first visit to the Vatican and meet Pope Francis in the second half of January (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

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Vatican City (AFP) - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will make his first visit to the Vatican and meet Pope Francis in the second half of January, a spokesman for the tiny city state said Tuesday.

While no date has been set, the visit is likely to take place towards the end of the month, spokesman Ciro Benedettini told journalists.

Rouhani, a self-declared moderate who was elected in 2013, had been scheduled to visit the Vatican in November as part of a tour which would have taken him to Italy and France. But the trip was cancelled following the Paris attacks.

The previous official visit by an Iranian president to the Vatican was in 1999 when Mohammad Khatami met John Paul II, followed by another visit in 2005 when he attended the Polish pope's funeral.

While it is forbidden to convert to Christianity in Iran, the country's small minority of Eastern Catholics enjoy greater religious freedom than in many Sunni Gulf states.

Catholic Mexico is persecuting converts to evangelical Christianity

by Mariusa Reyes - 3rd December 2014

President Peña Nieto, whose country's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, meeting Pope Francis in 2013. Photo:

FIDEL López Hernández is one of many evangelical Christians persecuted in Mexico for daring to practice Christianity in a way that differs from Catholicism, the country’s main religion.

‘Where I live, in Chiapas, when the local community leaders heard that a group of families had converted to the Pentecostal church, they told them that if they wanted to have a religious service it would have to be in their own homes, and only after paying a fine of 25,000 Mexican pesos (the equivalent of £1,000), which is illegal’, Hernández, a converted evangelical Christian told Lapido Media.

Hernández: expelled from his community for converting. Photo: CSW

Hernández himself has suffered persecution because of his decision three years ago to join an evangelical church. In 2012, he and his family along with 40 other Christians were violently removed from their houses by the local authorities.

‘They not only expelled us from our homes, they also took our plots of land and all our possessions. We had to leave with nothing’, Hernández said.

In this particular incident all the Protestant men and boys were arbitrarily imprisoned and forced to renounce their faith. The group included women, children and the elderly. Since then they have been living in an overcrowded former homeless shelter in another municipality.

Evangelical church service in rural Mexico. Photo:

Religious intolerance is most prevalent in the southwest of Mexico, particularly in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, but also in some central states such as Michoacán, Hidalgo, Puebla and Guerrero. These are states with a high percentage of indigenous population.

‘Christians in these regions are threatened and persecuted by those who disagree with their choice to change their religion and beliefs,’ Dr Jorge Lee Gallardo, a specialist lawyer who has provided legal assistance to evangelical churches for over 20 years, told Lapido Media.

‘These authorities believe that their culture is being damaged and they do not accept that the freedom of the individual can take precedence over their cultural traditions.’

Gallardo leads Impulso 18, which heard first-hand accounts of violations of religious freedom at a recent conference in Mexico City hosted jointly with Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

‘The central conflict often arises around the financial contribution requested by local authorities and traditional religious leaders to be used for the ‘patron saint’ religious festivals. Protestant Christians refuse to pay these fees,' he said.

Protest slogan on T-shirts - Ser Evangelico, No Es Delito - reads: Being an evangelical is not a crime. Photo:

Members of minority Christian groups are being forced to leave their faith, their children are banned from state-run schools, they are barred from access to electricity, water and farmland, and their modest religious buildings are destroyed.

The Mexican constitution in its article 24 guarantees religious freedom for all. However, the law is ignored by those who consider Catholicism to be the official religion in the country.

‘Our constitution does not talk of one church but of many churches. I don’t think the Catholic Church as an institution perpetrates these abuses against other churches. What happens, I believe, is that the Catholic leadership in our country does not have the control over the more traditional or conservative of their believers to persuade them to respect other churches,' Gallardo said.

A further growing threat to religious freedom in Mexico comes from the drug trafficking criminal networks operating in the country.

In a written statement to the US House of Representatives´ Foreign Affairs Committee, during a hearing on the Worldwide Persecution of Christians earlier this year, Galindo reported that ‘extortion aimed at houses of worship has become normal in the north of Mexico’.

According to his statement, pastors, priests and parishioners - Christians and Catholics alike - who refuse to cooperate with criminal activities, are threatened and kidnapped - in some cases in the middle of religious services.

Juan Sapien Sandoval has been an evangelical Christian for 15 years. He knows only too well what it means to be a Christian in his home town, ridden by crime and violence.

‘In Michoacán, where I live, we see these groups of armed men, most of whom were drug dealers before, now fighting the narco cartels’, he told Lapido Media.

‘They recruit children and teenagers for their cause. On one occasion, they threw us out of our community using sticks and machetes. They have threatened to kill me if I go back to my community’.

At all levels in society there seems to be a general acceptance that this problem of religious persecution exists but what is lacking is the political will to resolve it.

‘Government officials usually try to find excuses, putting the blame on the regional authorities. There is very little political will to address the issue in any meaningful way,' said CSW´s Anna Lee.

Non-Catholic churches, like the Assemblies of God, are growing in Mexico. Photo: CC/Rayttc

Despite their plight, non-Catholic churches in Mexico – Protestant, Pentecostal, Christian and evangelical – continue to grow. In the 2010 census out of a total population of 112 million inhabitants, eight million people said they belong to any of these denominations, as opposed to six and a half million people in 2000.

Lapido Media asked the Mexican Episcopal Conference, the leadership body of the Catholic church in Mexico, to comment on the treatment of minority Christians. Monsignor Leopoldo González González, Bishop of Tapachula (Chiapas) and President of the Episcopal Commission for the Interfaith Dialogue said the Catholic Church is tolerant of believers who convert to other denominations, but, for example in Chiapas 'evangelicals accuse and offend Catholics, calling them idolaters and drunks. These offences provoke a normal reaction of intolerance from our believers towards evangelicals'.

He added that indigenous people have a 'very high sense of community life' and when someone else doesn't respect their tradition and rules 'they expel them from their communities'.

Mariusa Reyes is a former BBC correspondent in Mexico and Central America.


It's a puppet act with a purpose

A man and his puppet perform on Semoran Blvd. to make a living.

Orlando Sentinel

Third-generation ventriloquist and his puppet give street performances in Orlando

April 17, 2015, 6:05 PM 

Nelson Camacho says he is a third-generation ventriloquist and has traveled around the country supporting himself and his puppet Jose with donations from his street performances.

The performances involve a personal goal to share his faith by singing Christian songs and hymns despite the occasional argument with Jose about who should get top billing in their act.

They perform on South Semoran Boulevard near Pershing Avenue in Orlando.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

NYC Businesses Face $250K Fine If They Use Wrong Pronoun to Name Transgenders

BY SAMUEL SMITH , CP REPORTER December 29, 2015|11:21

gender-neutral bathroom
A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California, Irvine in Irvine, California, September 30, 2014. The University of California will designate gender-neutral restrooms at its 10 campuses to accommodate transgender students — a move that may be the first of its kind for a system of colleges in the United States.

Business owners who fail to call transgender people by their preferred name or pronoun or bar them from using opposite-sex bathrooms may be fined as much as $250,000, a New York City human rights commission stated in a recent enforcement guidance.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights released a legal enforcement guidance on Dec. 21 outlining various actions that should be considered violations of the New York City Human Rights Law and also listed the consequences for businesses that violate the law.

Specifically, the guidance goes into great detail on what is to be considered "gender-discrimination" under its interpretation of the human rights law.

According to the document, "failing to use an individual's preferred name or pronoun" is clear gender discrimination and a violation of the law. This means that if businesses refuse to call transgender employees or customers by preferred newly created pronouns such as "ze/hir," or if they refuse to call a biological male "her" or "she," they will be liable for paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

"The NYCHRL requires employers and covered entities to use an individual's preferred name, pronoun and title (e.g., Ms./Mrs.) regardless of the individual's sex assigned at birth, anatomy, gender, medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on the individual's identification," the guidance states. "All people, including employees, tenants, customers, and participants in programs, have the right to use their preferred name regardless of whether they have identification in that name or have obtained a court-ordered name change, except in very limited circumstances where certain federal, state, or local laws require otherwise."

The guide also suggests that companies should institute policies of asking people what pronouns they prefer to be referenced by.

"Some transgender and gender non-conforming people prefer to use pronouns other than he/him/his or she/her/hers, such as they/them/theirs or ze/hir," the guidance adds. "Asking someone their preferred gender pronoun and preferred name is not a violation of the NYCHRL."

The document states that in order to be in violation of the law, businesses must show an "intentional or repeated refusal to use an individual's preferred name, pronoun or title." Businesses may not condition the use of an individual's preferred name or pronoun on the individual having legal proof or documentation of their gender.

According to the document, the city government can impose "civil penalties" up to $125,000 for violations, and as much as $250,000 for violations that are caused by "willful, wanton, or malicious conduct."

The guidance also asserts that businesses that refuse to allow transgender individuals to use restrooms, locker rooms and other changing facilities of the opposite biological sex are also in violation of the human rights law and could be liable for paying the same fine.

Although many are concerned that allowing members of the opposite-sex to share restrooms or locker rooms would expose little children to the biological genitalia of the transgender individual and could also allow pedophiles and others to take advantage of the law, the guidance instructs businesses to ignore the concerns of customers who oppose allowing transgenders in opposite-sex changing areas.

"Some people, including, for example, customers, other program participants, tenants, or employees, may object to sharing a facility or participating in a program with a transgender or gender non-conforming person. Such objections are not a lawful reason to deny access to that transgender or gender non-conforming individual," the guidance reads.

Additionally, the commission wrote that it is against the law for companies to create workplace policies that prohibit male employees from wearing female jewelry or makeup to work.


7 evangelical Christians jailed for refusing to convert not to Islam but to Catholicism in Mexico

Hazel Torres 
18 December 2015

Pilgrims hold up images of the Virgin of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in honor of the Virgin, the patron saint of Mexican Catholics, at the Cathedral of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Dec.11, 2015.

Seven evangelical Christians are facing a different kind of persecution—this time not by Islamic radicals but, surprisingly, by fellow Christ-believing Catholics.

In a report carried by Charisma News, the International Christian Concern (ICC) said it has learned that the seven evangelical Christians were sent to jail in Chiapas, Mexico, on Dec. 15 after they refused to convert to Catholicism.

ICC said Mexican state and federal authorities had been informed of threats to illegally expel or send to prison members of the evangelical community in the area, but they refused to intervene.

The evangelicals earlier received an ultimatum to convert to Catholicism or face expulsion and imprisonment by local officials of the place where they reside—in Leyva Velazques, a municipality of Las Margaritas, Chiapas.

Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion in Mexico where 82.7 percent of the people adhere to the faith, based on a census conducted in 2010. However, Mexico's Constitution explicitly protects the right of all citizens to profess and practice the religious belief of their choice.

Reports said the Catholics' ultimatum forced eight families in the village to sign documents indicating their willingness to convert to Catholicism.

But seven of their fellow evangelicals refused to sign the document and were sent to jail, according to Luis Herrera, Director of the Coordination of Christian Council of Churches.

Other evangelical Christians in the community are continually being pressured to renounce their faith by local officials of Leyva Velazques, according to ICC.

The Christian group said this incident shows the growing trend of religious persecution in rural areas of Mexico under the noses of state and federal government officials who refuse to do anything to protect religious minorities.

In June, ICC reported more than 70 cases of religious persecution against minority Christian communities in the states of Chiapas, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Puebla and Guerrero. Each case involved 20 to 100 victims.

Isaac Six, ICC's Advocacy Director, has appealed to the Mexican government to stop the persecution of Christian minorities in the country's rural areas.

It is simply unconscionable for the state and federal governments of Mexico to repeatedly ignore the arbitrary arrest and expulsion of their own citizens by local governments on the basis of religious belief," he said.

"Today, hundreds of men, women, and children are homeless in Mexico because they chose to follow their beliefs, and because their government refused to act. We call on the federal government of Mexico to immediately intervene and halt the unlawful detention of members of the evangelical community in Leyva Velazques," Six said.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Chick-fil-A makes rare Sunday exception

Katie Little | @KatieLittle
8 Hours Ago

Unlike many restaurants, Chick-fil-A is known for more than just food: it's also famous for being closed on Sundays.

But in the name of a good cause, some locations in Texas northeast of Dallas turned the lights on Sunday after tornadoes ripped through the state and killed 11 people.

"The locations were not open to the public, but team members from various restaurants in the area did volunteer to prepare and distribute free food to responders and others affected by the tornadoes—serving those in need during this tragic event," said Amanda Hannah, a spokeswoman for the chain, in an email.

Chick-fil-A has maintained its rare Sunday closure policy since the chicken chain opened. The weekly day off is meant to encourage employees to rest, spend time with family and worship if they chose.


The Cashless Society Cometh: European Nations Such As Sweden And Denmark Are ‘Eradicating Cash’

By Michael Snyder, on December 27th, 2015

Did you know that 95 percent of all retail sales in Sweden are cashless? And did you know that the government of Denmark has a stated goal of “eradicating cash” by the year 2030? All over the world, we are seeing a relentless march toward a cashless society, and nowhere is this more true than in northern Europe. In Sweden, hundreds of bank branches no longer accept or dispense cash, and thousands of ATM machines have been permanently removed. At this point, bills and coins only account for just 2 percent of the Swedish economy, and many stores no longer take cash at all. The notion of a truly “cashless society” was once considered to be science fiction, but now we are being told that it is “inevitable”, and authorities insist that it will enable them to thwart criminals, terrorists, drug runners, money launderers and tax evaders. But what will we give up in the process?

In Sweden, the transition to a cashless society is being enthusiastically embraced. The following is an excerpt from a New York Times article that was published on Saturday…

Parishioners text tithes to their churches. Homeless street vendors carry mobile credit-card readers. Even the Abba Museum, despite being a shrine to the 1970s pop group that wrote “Money, Money, Money,” considers cash so last-century that it does not accept bills and coins.

Few places are tilting toward a cashless future as quickly as Sweden, which has become hooked on the convenience of paying by app and plastic.

To me, giving money in church electronically seems so bizarre. But it is starting to happen here in the United States, and in Sweden some churches collect most of their tithes and offerings this way

During a recent Sunday service, the church’s bank account number was projected onto a large screen. Worshipers pulled out cellphones and tithed through an app called Swish, a payment system set up by Sweden’s biggest banks that is fast becoming a rival to cards.

Other congregants lined up at a special “Kollektomat” card machine, where they could transfer funds to various church operations. Last year, out of 20 million kronor in tithes collected,more than 85 percent came in by card or digital payment.

And of course it isn’t just Sweden that is rapidly transitioning to a cashless society. Over in Denmark, government officials have a goal “to completely do away with paper money” by the year 2030

Sweden is not the only country interested in eradicating cash. Its neighbor, Denmark, is also making great strides to lessen the circulation of banknotes in the country.

Two decades ago, roughly 80 percent of Danish citizens relied on hard cash while shopping. Fast forward to today, that figure has dropped dramatically to 25 percent.

“We’re interested in getting rid of cash,” said Matas IT Director Thomas Grane. “The handling, security and everything else is expensive; so, definitely we want to push digital payments, and that’s of course why we introduced mobile payments to help this process.”

Eventually, establishments may soon have the right to reject cash- a practice that is common in Sweden. Government officials have set a 2030 deadline to completely do away with paper money.

Could you imagine a world where you couldn’t use cash for anything?

This is the direction things are going – especially in Europe.

As I have written about previously, cash transactions of more than 2,500 euros have already been banned in Spain, and France and Italy have both banned all cash transactions of more than 1,000 euros.

Little by little, cash is being eradicated, and what we have seen so far is just the beginning. 417 billion cashless transactions were conducted in 2014, and the final number for 2015 is projected to be much higher.

Banks like this change, because it enables them to make more money due to the fees that they collect from credit cards and debit cards. And governments like this change because electronic payments enable them to watch, track and monitor what we are all doing much more easily.

These days, very rarely does anyone object to what is happening. Instead, most of us just seem to accept that this change is “inevitable”, and we are being assured that it will be for the better. And no matter where in the world you go, the propaganda seems to be the same. For example, the following comes froman Australian news source

AND so we prepare to turn the page to fresh year — 2016, a watershed year in which Australia will accelerate towards becoming a genuine cashless society.

The cashless society will be a new world free of $1 and $2 coins, or $5 or $10 bank notes. A new world in which all commercial transactions, from buying an i-pad or a hamburger to playing the poker machines, purchasing a newspaper, paying household bills or picking up the dry-cleaning, will be paid for electronically.

And in that same article the readers are told that Australia will likely be “a fully cashless society” by 2022…

Research by Westpac Bank predicts Australia will be a fully cashless society by 2022 — just six years away. Already half of all commercial payments are now made electronically.

Even in some of the poorest areas on the entire globe we are seeing a move toward a cashless society. In 2015, banks in India made major progress on this front, and income tax rebates are being considered by the government as an incentive “to encourage people to move away from cash transactions“.

Would a truly cashless society reduce crime and make all of our lives much more efficient?


But what would we have to give up?

To me, America is supposed to be a place where we can go where we want and do what we want without the government constantly monitoring us. If people choose to use cashless forms of payment that is one thing, but if we are allrequired to go to such a system I fear that it could result in the loss of tremendous amounts of freedom and liberty.

And it is all too easy to imagine a world where a government-sponsored form of “identification” would be required to use any form of electronic payment. This would give the government complete control over who could use “the system” and who could not. The potential for various forms of coercion and tyranny in such a scenario is obvious.

What would you do if you could not buy, sell, get a job or open a bank account without proper “identification” someday? What you simply give in to whatever the government was demanding of you at the time even if it went against your fundamental beliefs?

That is certainly something to think about.

Many will cheer as the world makes a rapid transition to a cashless society, but I will not. I believe that a truly cashless system would open the door for great evil, and I don’t want any part of it.

What about you?

Would you welcome a cashless society?


Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Gift of Religious Freedom

Matt Barber | Dec 27, 2015

Last Tuesday, Kentucky’s new governor, Matt Bevin, issued an executive order that eliminates the names of all county clerks from marriage licenses and protects the unalienable constitutional rights and religious freedoms of Kim Davis and all other clerks in Kentucky.

“This action is a fulfillment of a campaign promise by Gov. Bevin and is directly what our client Kim Davis has been requesting for months,” said Mat Staver, Davis’ attorney and founder of the Christian civil rights firm Liberty Counsel. “This promise will enable her and other clerks to do their jobs without compromising religious values and beliefs.”

The governor’s statement reads in part:

“To ensure that the sincerely held religious beliefs of all Kentuckians are honored, Executive Order 2015-048 directs the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives to issue a revised marriage license form to the offices of all Kentucky County Clerks. The name of the County Clerk is no longer required to appear on the form.”

While the First Amendment alone should be enough to ensure these safeguards, the unconstitutional actions of five “progressive” lawyers on the U.S. Supreme Court, who, back in June, presumed to capriciously redefine the immutable meaning of marriage, has created legal and moral chaos from coast-to-coast, making fixes such as that issued by Gov. Bevin necessary. Furthermore, these extremist lawyers’ subjective and unprecedented opinion will require additional fixes in all other states to reaffirm Christians’ objective and constitutionally guaranteed rights. Although the fight to repair the perversion of marriage committed by the high court will continue, this is an important step in the right direction.

You may recall that Davis was arbitrarily imprisoned for five days earlier this year by federal Judge David Bunning for exercising her religious liberties and refusing to violate her conscience by signing her name to, and, thereby, giving her official approval of, counterfeit “gay marriage” licenses. These licenses, of course, violate both natural law and the manifold biblical proscriptions against the sin of unnatural same-sex deviancy. Bunning’s tyrannical move backfired tremendously, earning Davis’ the support of tens-of-millions of Christians worldwide, as well as both a private audience with, and the express support of, Pope Francis.

“This is a wonderful Christmas gift for Kim Davis,” continued Staver. “This executive order is a clear, simple accommodation on behalf of Kim Davis and all Kentucky clerks. Kim can celebrate Christmas with her family knowing she does not have to choose between her public office and her deeply held religious convictions. What former Gov. Beshear could have done but refused to do, Gov. Bevin did with this executive order. We are pleased that Gov. Bevin kept his campaign promise to accommodate the religious rights of Kim Davis. We will notify the courts of the executive order, and this order proves our point that a reasonable accommodation should have been done to avoid Kim having to spend time in jail.”

“Bah humbug!” cried the ACLU.

“Governor Bevin’s executive action has added to the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over marriage licensing in Kentucky,” claimed ACLU of Kentucky Legal Director William Sharp.

“The requirement that the county clerk’s name appear on marriage licenses is prescribed by Kentucky law and is not subject to unilateral change by the governor,” he demanded, proving that the anti-Christian left’s goal was never about so-called “marriage equality” but, rather, was to force Christians to deny marriage reality and personally affirm, under penalty of law, mock “gay marriages.”

The ACLU will soon have little more to say on the subject as lawmakers are poised to further codify and build upon Bevin’s executive order. “Next month, the Kentucky legislature is expected to update the state’s marriage laws and will consider a provision exempting county clerks from having to issue them,” reports ABC News. “Davis said Kentucky’s marriage laws have been ‘completely eviscerated’ by the Supreme Court’s ruling and said she would be willing to come to the state Capitol to testify about any changes.”

Other state legislatures, as well as the U.S. Congress, must soon follow suit if any progress is to be made into the impasse between secularist change agents hostile to religious freedom, and the faithful Christians who enjoy it as a matter of law.

“In an interview with the Associated Press about her year at the center of one of the biggest social changes in decades, Davis described it as ‘a very emotional and a very real situation to all people.’ But she said simply telling others about her faith was not ‘going to make anybody believe anything.’ And so she put her faith in action by refusing to issue the licenses,” added ABC.

“‘No one would ever have remembered a county clerk that just said … ‘Even though I don’t agree with it, it’s OK. I’ll do it,’ Davis said. ‘If I could be remembered for one thing, it’s that I was not afraid to not compromise myself.’”

Kim Davis will certainly be remembered for her steadfast refusal to compromise herself. But she, along with Gov. Bevin, will also be remembered for helping, this Christmas season, to re-establish the gift of religious freedom for the people of Kentucky.

Even so, the war for our culture will continue into the New Year and well beyond.


Sunday Conversation: Region population spike outpaces Fla. growth

The Tampa Bay region has outpaced the average growth rate in Florida, helping send the state past 20.2 million residents. WTSP

10 News Staff

WTSP9:22 a.m. EST December 27, 2015

(Photo: Jim Damanske, Tampa Bay Times)

It's a tale of a battle between both sides of the bay. Population growth in the area has surpassed the state average. But which side of the bridges are people moving to?

It is part of a larger influx of people moving to the Sunshine State. The state has added 365,000 residents between 2014 and 2015, for a total of 20.2 million residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics

Florida was second in overall population growth behind Texas. It is the third most populous state behind the California and the Lone Star State.

In today's Sunday Conversation with the Tampa Bay Times, 10Investigates' Noah Pransky sits down with Times' reporter Charlie Frago about the Tampa Bay region's spike in population growth.


Shoppers out in force Saturday

Many residents head to stores to return gifts and take advantage of sales after Christmas on third-busiest shopping day of the year

Alexis Bower, left, and her mother, Karrie Bower, of Getzville, shop at the Boulevard Mall on Saturday. Although many people were returning gifts bought online, many others were spending gift cards and sniffing out sales at area stores. Derek Gee/Buffalo News

By Samantha Christmann | News Staff Reporter | @DiscountDivaSam

on December 26, 2015 - 8:10 PM

, updated December 26, 2015 at 10:27 PM

If you thought the Christmas rush was over, think again.

The day after Christmas is the third-busiest shopping day of the year, after Black Friday and Super Saturday, according to analytics firm ShopperTrak.

Shoppers were out in force Saturday, returning gifts, spending gift cards and shopping the sales.

Karrie Bower of Getzville was out with her daughter Alexis and mother Jackie Cafaro. Bower said she likes browsing the stores while making returns, taking advantage of post-Christmas discounts.

“If you don’t mind the hustle and bustle, it’s perfect,” she said.

Jane and Bill Wheeler brought daughter Maria to Dick’s Sporting Goods to return a purple Under Armour sweatshirt they’d gotten her for Christmas. Maria loved it, but it didn’t fit, so they took it back and ended up buying two different ones.

“Now we’re $44 more in the hole than we came in the door with,” Jane Wheeler said.

More people than ever are doing their holiday shopping online. That means many returns will take place through the mail, throwing a wrench into the traditional post-Christmas return process.

Janelle Fenzel was at Boulevard Mall on Saturday returning Converse sneakers, sweatpants and bras that didn’t fit. She said she prefers taking care of returns in-store rather than online and keeps return policies in mind when doing her own Christmas shopping.

“It’s a pain. I’d rather not do that,” said Janelle Fenzel of Wilson. “Sometimes it takes like a month to get what you ordered back.”

Most brick-and-mortar stores allow customers to make returns in stores, even if items were bought online. In fact, “buy online, return in store” has its own acronym in the retail industry – BORIS. Retailers tout the concept, leveraging it as a way to compete on convenience against online-only stores.

For some families, the post-Christmas shopping trip has become a holiday of its own – a way to wring a few more magical moments out of Christmas.

Emily Lyons and her mother started a tradition years ago. She requests Boulevard Mall gift cards for Christmas, then she and her mom spend the day after Christmas shopping the mall together.

That way, she gets to spend time with her mother while buying exactly what she wants. She chose a sweater and skirt from H&M to wear on New Year’s Eve, some lotion from Bath & Body Works and some makeup from Sephora.

“I’d rather do that than returns any day,” Lyons said. “The line for returns is always so long and moves so slow.”

Another big draw for shoppers on the day after Christmas are the sales. Prices drop steadily throughout the Christmas season, but really kick in after Christmas as retailers seek to make room for new inventory.

Racine White set out with daughters Ray and Robyn specifically to hit Bath & Body Works’ popular semi-annual sale. Each year on Dec. 26, the store slashes its prices by up to 75 percent.

The White family snagged two large shopping bags full of product that would’ve normally cost more than $300, but which they got for just over $75.

“We all gotta get that last bit of Christmas spirit out of our systems,” Robyn said.

The entire week after Christmas is a busy one. It’s the last burst of steady traffic before the doldrums of winter, and retailers do their best to capture every last penny.

“The lines are long before Christmas, the lines are long just after Christmas and then it’s a ghost town,” Karrie Bower said.

Nearly half of holiday shoppers plan to hit the stores this week, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation. About 47 percent of shoppers said they plan to shop at brick-and-mortar stores the week after Christmas while 43.1 percent said they will shop online. The rate is higher among millennials, 59.2 percent of whom said they will shop in stores and 59.3 percent of whom plan to shop online.

Of those who received gift cards for Christmas, 19.7 percent said they would spend them right away, while 41.9 percent said they will hold onto them until they find the best deals. Another 19 percent said they will hold onto them for future splurges.

While Dec. 26 is the third-busiest day in terms of foot traffic, it’s the 10th busiest in terms of dollars spent.



Francis Sacred Sunday : Bill Hughes

Published on Oct 11, 2015

Francis Sacred Sunday : Bill Hughes


New Conservation Effort Aims To Protect Papa's Papers (Update)

Updated December 27, 20157:57 AM ET
Published December 27, 20156:54 AM ET


Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea here at the Finca Vigia, his home outside Havana.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It's been a year since the U.S. and Cuba began normalizing relations. Tourism, business and cultural exchanges are booming. And there is another curious benefactor of those warmer ties — Ernest Hemingway, or at least, his legacy. The writer lived just outside of Havana for 20 years, and that house, called the Finca Vigia, has long been a national museum.

But years of hot, humid Caribbean weather has taken a toll on the author's thousands of papers and books. A Boston-based foundation is helping restore those weathered treasures, and who better to lead that effort than the original dean of home repairs: Bob Vila, of public televison's This Old House. He tells NPR's Carrie Kahn that he has a personal connection to Cuba. "I'm American-born Cuban," he says. "My Havana-born parents emigrated during the latter part of World War II, and I was born in Miami, raised there and partially in Havana up until the revolution in 1959."

Interview Highlights

On the condition of the house

It's restored — I mean, the restoration, the new roof, the new windows, all of the basics of the house were, the restoration was completed five or six years ago, it's now into its first major maintenance phase. The work that continues is really about the conservation of the papers, the books. Hemingway's private library of over 9,000 books were all left there. The changes that President Obama has brought forth have allowed us to actually begin fundraising so that we can help with the work of creating a paper conservation laboratory as well as an archival storage facility where many of these literary treasures will find a safe home.

On the treasures in the house


Hemingway left his books, papers and typewriter (seen here in 1964) in Cuba when he returned to America.Mondadori Portfolio /Getty Images

The very first time I went to the Finca, I came as an expert on termite damage. And what happened was that the accessory building that Hemingway put up back in the '50s, which was a wooden building, was essentially a guesthouse/garage. And this is where the Cubans had been storing a great many items, and I needed to get in to see what the structure looked like, and to just poke around at it to see how bad the damage was. But they were very very jealous about it; they didn't want me to go in there. But I finally convinced them, and we opened these doors and turned on a spare light bulb that's in there. And I've always compared it to what it must have been like to find Tutankhamen's tomb. Because in the dim light, I just saw a row of all his African hunting trophies, boxes upon boxes of books, and I look to the left, and there's his typewriter.

On the house after the revolution

He left the home to the Cuban people, not to the revolution, and he wanted it to become a museum. His widow eventually went and removed personal belongings, you know, her grandmother's tea set kind of things, and papers ... but generally speaking, everything that you see there, he meant to leave there, so that it could become a center for learning, a center for understanding more about his literature, and part of a cultural bridge between our United States culture and the Cuban culture.

Updated December 27, 2015   11:13 AM ET
Published December 27, 2015  6:54 AM ET


While clearly there are still hurdles along the road to normalization, as we've heard, the new warmer ties are reaping rewards. One additional and curious benefactor is the legacy of Ernest Hemingway. The writer lived just outside of Havana for 20 years, and that home has long been a national museum. But years of hot, humid Caribbean weather has taken a toll on the author's thousands of papers and books. A Boston-based foundation is helping restore those weathered treasures. And who better to lead that effort than the original dean of home repairs, Bob Vila, of public television's "This Old House." He joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome.
BOB VILA: Thank you. It's great to be with you.
KAHN: Oh, it's great that you've come in. Thank you so much. I've watched many episodes back in the day of "This Old House," and I just assumed that you hailed from New England. But you have a very personal connection to Cuba. Tell us about that.
VILA: I'm American-born Cuban. My Havana-born parents emigrated during the latter part of World War II. And I was born in Miami, raised there and partially in Havana up until the revolution in '59.
KAHN: And you've been back there several times since then.
VILA: The project took me there. I really did not go to Havana or visit Cuba for over four decades, and my parents were staunch anti-Communists in, you know, in the '50s and the '60s, et cetera. I was convinced to go back to kind of reconnect with the culture that they came from as part of this project and also with the work of Catholic Charities (speaking Spanish). So it's been just a wonderful experience for me over the last dozen years to be able to participate in the restoration of Hemingway's house and collections, his legacy there. And, you know, Hemingway was very much a lover of all things Cuban.
KAHN: I got - last summer I actually was lucky enough to tour that Hemingway house, and it is amazing. It's beautiful. The grounds are beautiful, and what I liked the best was that you could look right into the rooms. You could see his library, his sitting room. It looked like he'd just walked out of the house.
VILA: Well, it's restored. I mean, the restoration, the new roof, the new windows, all of the basics of the house were - the restoration was completed a good five, six years ago. It's now into its first major maintenance phase. The work that continues is really about the conservation of the papers, the books. Hemingway's private library of over 9,000 books were all left there. The changes that President Obama has brought forth have allowed us to actually begin fundraising so that we can help with the work of creating a paper conservation laboratory as well as an archival storage facility where many of these literary treasures will find a safe home.
KAHN: Well, talk about some of those things that you want to preserve. Hemingway had such a storied stay in Cuba. And he finished "For Whom The Bell Tolls" there. He wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Old Man And The Sea," and so you've seen these archives and the treasures. Tell us what's the coolest thing that you've seen.
VILA: Well, the very first time I went I came as an expert on termite damage. And what happened was that the accessory building that Hemingway put up back in the '50s, which was a wooden building, was essentially a guest house/garage. And this is where the Cubans had been storing a great many items. And I needed to get in to see what the structure looked like and just poke around at it to see how bad the termite damage was. But they were very, very jealous about it. They didn't want me to go in there. And I finally convinced them. And so we opened these doors and turned on a spare light bulb that's in there. And I've always compared it to what it must've been like to find Tutankhamun's tomb. In the dim light I just saw a row of all his African hunting trophies, boxes upon boxes of books. And then I looked to the left. There's his typewriter. And he's even got his World War I ambulance driver uniform in there 'cause the guy never threw anything out.
KAHN: Hemingway left Cuba soon after the revolution. What became of his house?
VILA: He left the home to the Cuban people, not to the revolution, and he wanted it to become a museum. His widow eventually went and removed personal belongings. But generally speaking the - everything that you see there he meant to leave there so that it could become a center for learning, a center for understanding more about his literature and part of a cultural bridge between our United States culture and the Cuban culture.
KAHN: Bob Vila, good luck with your restoration process in Havana of Hemingway's house. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
VILA: The pleasure's mine.

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Pope urges help for Cuban migrants stranded in Central America

Source: Reuters - Sun, 27 Dec 2015 11:20 GMT

Author: Reuters

Cuban migrants line up to receive food at a border post with Panama in Paso Canoas, Costa Rica, December 22, 2015. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

VATICAN CITY, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Pope Francis urged Central American governments on Sunday to find an urgent solution to help thousands of U.S.-bound Cuban migrants stranded on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Nicaragua has refused to let the growing number of Cubans trying to reach the United States who have become stuck in Costa Rica pass through its territory. About 5,000 Cubans are estimated to be on the border.

Speaking from his window overlooking St. Peter's Square to ten of thousands of people gathered for his Sunday blessing, Francis said many of those stranded were victims of human trafficking.

"I ask the countries of the region to generously resume efforts to find a quick solution to this humanitarian drama," he said.

Central America and Mexico have seen a surge in migrants from the Communist-ruled island as the process of a detente between Washington and Havana raises the prospectc that current U.S. asylum rights for Cubans may soon end.

Last week the Nicaraguan government proposed that the U.S. government organise an airlift to take the migrants directly from Costa Rica to the United States. The Costa Rican government has tried to convince both Belize and Guatemala to allow the Cubans passage to reach Mexico..

The plight of migrants is expected to be a main topic of Francis' trip in February to Mexico, where he will say Mass at Ciudad Juarez within metres of the border with Texas. .

Earlier on Sunday, Francis said Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for families in Rome marking the Roman Catholic Church's jubille year.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Angus MacSwan)


Sunday traditions

December 25, 2015 12:00 AM

Odds-makers out of Las Vegas have Sen. Marco Rubio winning the Republican nomination and Hillary Clinton winning the general election. We need the right leader for our times. The world is in turmoil in its struggle with the Islamic State group. On the home front, we have security, economic and social issues.

There is no argument or question that our country was founded on Christian values that have eroded over the years. A Dec. 20, Post-Gazette article is illustrative — “Church Fading Away After More Than a Century of Worship.” The subhead said the First Presbyterian Church in struggling Clairton will close with a Dec. 27 service.

Another article about the merit of religion appeared in the Dec. 20 Forum section: “Religion Is Good for Families and Kids.”

Our Congress should revisit and our candidates for president should consider advocating the restoration of Sunday as a day of rest, a paid day of rest, a required day of rest. Now we have the distraction of unnecessary shopping; in the not-too-distant past, nonessential business establishments were required to be closed on Sundays.

Americans deserve a day of rest, a day to be with families, attend church and interact with people on an interpersonal level. Imagine shutting down the Internet or cellphones for a day. How peaceful that day would be!

We have made a truly negative rat race, with limited time availability or potential for good interactions with one another.
We need to restore one takeaway from our past: Sunday as a day of rest, a day of worship, of prayer that was invaluable to our family values and individual well-being.

The odds are, regretfully, that our Sunday traditions of the past are gone forever just as are the odds that presidential candidates would even think of Sunday as an essential need. Merry CHRISTmas!

New Castle



Saturday, December 26, 2015

U.S. storm deaths reach 22 as new tornadoes hit Texas

US | Sat Dec 26, 2015 9:59pm EST


Traffic goes across the bridge on Alabama hwy 87 at the Pea River in Elba, Alabama, December 26, 2015.

Four people died in a storm-related incident in Texas near where a tornado touched down on Saturday, bringing the death toll from tornadoes and flooding this week in the southern United States to 22, according to officials and local media.

The four victims were killed in what was believed to be a traffic accident in the Texas city of Garland, about 15 miles (24 km) northeast of downtown Dallas, police spokesman Mike Hatfield told the Dallas Morning News.

The National Weather Service confirmed tornadoes hit multiple cities around Dallas on Saturday evening. Weather officials said there were reports of debris falling from the sky onto a highway in nearby DeSoto.

The Weather Service said a tornado had touched down to the south of Dallas in Ellis County, where Emergency Management Coordinator Stephanie Parker said: "We have destroyed and damaged homes."

Weather officials also confirmed tornadoes striking the Texas towns Ovilla, Farmersville and Rowlett - which neighbors Garland. Images uploaded to social media showed a massive tornado near Rowlett and at least one destroyed structure.

Flash flood and tornado warnings extended into Saturday night for the region, according to the Weather Service.

Officials in Benton County, Mississippi, on Saturday found the bodies of a man and woman who were missing since being caught in a tornado on Wednesday, said Greg Flynn, spokesman for Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

The cause of their deaths was not disclosed, but they brought the total dead from tornadoes in Mississippi to 10, in addition to 56 people injured, officials said.

The tornado damaged 403 homes over a seven-county area in the state, Flynn said. In addition, flooding left 50 homes uninhabitable and closed 40 roads in Monroe County, which got 10 to 12 inches (about 25 to 30 cm) of rain, he said.

The tornadoes also killed six people in Tennessee and one each in Arkansas and Alabama, bringing the three-state total to 18.

State authorities told local broadcaster WTVY that they had recovered the body of a 5-year-old boy who drowned when the car he was in was swept into floodwaters on Friday. A 22-year-old man who was in the car remains missing, the station said.

U.S. post-holiday travelers can expect a mix of stormy weather during the remainder of the weekend, with blizzard conditions in New Mexico and western Texas and flooding rain in the southern plains from south Texas through Indiana, forecasters said.

In California, high winds fanned a wildfire that closed parts of the much-traveled U.S. 101 northwest of Los Angeles and forced evacuations, fire officials said.

The wet and snowy conditions come after a Christmas Day of unseasonable warmth on the East Coast, with record-high temperatures set or tied in several cities, including New York.

"It looks like it's going to be pretty bad across the southwest into the southern plains," said Evan Duffey, meteorologist for AccuWeather.

He added that given the blizzard conditions expected for Saturday, anyone hoping to travel in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas "should try to get going as soon as you can" to beat the storm.

(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas, Mary Wisniewski in Chicago and Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Bill Rigby and Dan Grebler)


UN Security Council reaches 'milestone' Syria agreement



— DEC 27, 2015

Foreign ministers from 17 countries, gathering in NY on Friday before the council's session, also failed to bridge differences including which opposition factions should be branded "terrorists".

The Security Council met Friday after the latest round of talks by the International Syria Support Group, which gathered in NY to renew its push for peace.

The resolution calls the transition Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, stressing that the "Syrian people will decide the future of Syria".

The idea is that Mr Assad's regime will open talks with rebel groups next month with the aim of forming a "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian" government within six months.

UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution on Syria at a meeting held at the level of foreign ministers attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura.

The deputy minister gave warning there were "severe differences over a list of terrorist groups". "Now I think that there will be follow-up meetings", said Nasser Judeh, adding that countries had submitted between 10 and 20 names each.

US President Barack Obama stressed on supporting the allies in the region and stopping the spread of terrorism, which can not happen without political process in Syria, Kerry said.

Even as the UN Security Council was voting on a resolution touted as a road to peace in Syria, developments on the Syrian-Turkish border, long the conduit for ISIS and other Islamist militias as well as for arms and recruits, threatened to turn the conflict into the flashpoint for a global conflagration.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the two most important issues are launching political negotiations among Syrian parties and implementing a U.N.-monitored cease-fire. "Without peace talks, the cease-fire can not be sustained".

He said that IS is on the run, but will continue to be unsafe for some time.

It also backed a timeline previously agreed in Vienna for talks between the government on a unity government and opposition, and eventual elections.

A group of countries will join Jordan in developing that list, Kerry told reporters. Najib Ghadbian estimated that a month of preparation is needed. "We see how efficiently our pilots and intelligence agents coordinate their efforts with various kinds of forces - the army, navy and aviation, how they use the most modern weapons", Putin was quoted saying by Russian news agencies, according to Reuters UK.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has made a rare public appearance with a pre-Christmas visit to a church in an eastern suburb ofDamascus often targeted by rebel artillery.

Russian Federation has been conducting airstrikes in Syria since September 30. All of it within 18 months.

That designation would exclude a group from the political process while implicitly endorsing it as a target for the separate campaigns of airstrikes by Russian Federation and a US-led coalition. One of the killed women was pregnant, the observatory said.




October 12, 1904


By Mrs. E. G. White

Many regard Enoch as a man to whom God gave special power to live a life more holy than we can live. But the character of the man who was so holy that he was translated to heaven without seeing death is a representation of the character to be attained by those who will be translated when Christ comes in the clouds of heaven. Enoch's life was no more exemplary than may be the life of every one who maintains a close connection with God.

Surrounded with influences so corrupt that God brought a flood of water upon the earth to destroy its inhabitants for their wickedness, Enoch was by no means free from temptation; yet in the midst of a society no more friendly to righteousness than that which surrounds us, he lived a life of holiness. Breathing an atmosphere tainted with sin and corruption, he remained unsullied by the prevailing iniquity of the age. For three hundred years he “walked with God.”

It was through constant conflict and simple faith that Enoch walked with God. He realized that God is “a very present help in trouble.” When in perplexity, he prayed to God to keep him, and teach him His will. What shall I do to honor Thee, my God? was his prayer. His will was submerged in God's will. His feet were always directed in the path of obedience to God's commandments. Constantly his meditations were upon the goodness, the perfection, the loveliness, of the divine character. His conversation was upon heavenly things; he trained his mind to run in this channel. As he looked to Jesus, he became changed into the glorious image of his Lord, and his countenance was lighted up with the glory that shines from the face of Christ.

Enoch lived an active, zealous life of self-denial. He walked with men as oneamong them, but not as one of them; as one whose purposes and works and hopes were based, not only on time, but on eternity. He did not give the worldly-wise any reason to question his profession or his faith. By earnest words and by decided actions he showed that he was separate from the world. After periods of retirement he would mingle with the ungodly, exhorting them to abhor the evil and choose the good. As a faithful worker for God, he sought to save them. He warned the world. He preached faith in Christ, the Saviour of the world, the sinner's only hope.

We are living in an evil age. The perils of the last days multiply around us. Because iniquity abounds, the love of many waxes cold. Enoch's example is before us. Like him we must walk with God, bringing our will into submission to His will. We must train our minds to love purity, and to think upon heavenly things. Let us remember, too, that our responsibility is proportionate to our entrusted talents. If we abide in the True Vine,—if we bear the fruits of righteousness,—we shall go about doing good. In seeking to save the souls for whom Christ has died, in conquering difficulties, and in keeping ourselves unspotted from the world, we may reveal the genuineness of our religion.

The faithful Christian does not seek the easiest place, the lightest burdens. He is found where the work is hardest, where his help is most needed. Very many who claim to be Christians act as if they were in this world merely to please themselves. They forget that Jesus, their pattern, pleased not Himself. They forget that the self-denial and the self-sacrifice that characterized His life must characterize their lives, else in the day of God they will be found wanting, and will hear from His lips the irrevocable sentence, “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth!” Fearful sentence! Let every professing Christian, by zealous activity in the Master's cause, seek to avert this fearful doom.

Enoch was an Adventist. He directed the minds of men forward to the great day of God, when Christ will come the second time, to judge every man's work. Jude tells us, “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage.”

Like Enoch, we should earnestly proclaim the message of Christ's second coming. “The day of the Lord,” the Scriptures declare, “cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, ... and they shall not escape.” In these words is emphasized the importance of being constantly prepared for this great event. “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all children of light, and children of the day; we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober, ... putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.”


Friday, December 25, 2015

Attacks cast pall over Christmas in Paris and around the world

POSTED: 25 Dec 2015 07:40

French Police in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris on Dec 24, 2015. (Photo: AP/Jacques Brinon)

PARIS: It was a subdued Christmas Eve in Paris on Thursday (Dec 24), with tourist numbers down, security bolstered at shops and churches, and locals still on edge after last month's militant attacks.

Heavily armed soldiers patrolled outside the iconic Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores in the city centre, still doing a brisk last-minute Christmas trade but notably less crowded than usual.

"It's a lot quieter," said taxi driver Belkassem. "I feel bad for the hotels and restaurants because there are a lot fewer tourists in town this year and this is a crucial time of year for them."

The famous "bateaux-mouches" boats that carry millions of tourists each year along the Seine have reported a 15-30 per cent drop in business since the attacks of Nov 13, which left 130 dead and hundreds injured.

It is not only France that is feeling the tension this festive season. Christians around the world are bracing for potential attacks at a symbolic time of year - even in China where the US and British embassies warned of possible violence against Westerners in Beijing.

But Paris - the world's most-visited city - has naturally taken the worst blow in the wake of last month's attacks, with flight reservations down nearly a third compared with a year earlier.

Tourist guide Cecile Reverdy, who translates mostly for Chinese visitors, described a massive fall in business from some countries.

"There are around 30 per cent less Chinese - only 30 per cent because the Chinese are pretty daring," she told French television. "But for other languages, in Japanese or American, there is a drop of practically 80 per cent."

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has sought to reassure visitors and put a brave face on the economic damage. "Of course there are worries and we will never forget the victims, but activity is restarting," she said recently.


The government has warned that Christmas church services "could constitute targets of exceptional symbolic force".

Unprecedented security checks have been put in place at many of France's 50,000 churches, with bags checked and visitors asked to open their coats to check for guns or explosive vests.

A French Police officer searches bags in front of Notre Dame cathedral. (Photo: AP/Jacques Brinon)

At Strasbourg cathedral in eastern France, a military contingent was set to guard the Christmas midnight mass, where attendance will be strictly limited and the doors locked once the service starts.

France only narrowly escaped a church attack earlier this year, when a 24-year-old Algerian, Sid Ahmed Ghlam, accidentally shot himself in the leg.

Police discovered an arsenal of weapons, tactical gear and militant documents in Ghlam's car and student flat, as well as detailed plans to attack churches in the Paris suburb of Villejuif.

But the atmosphere of fear could nonetheless boost attendance.

"The Sundays after the attacks of Nov 13, we saw more people in our churches. People had a need to look inwards, to reflect on life and society," said Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, spokesman for the Conference of French Bishops.

A total of 120,000 police and soldiers will be on guard and patrol duty to protect Christmas celebrations across the country, officials said.


Around the globe on Thursday people were facing an edgy Christmas.

The British and US embassies in China issued a warning about possible threats against "Westerners" in a popular Beijing neighbourhood ahead of the holiday.

Some separatist militants in the mostly-Muslim region of Xinjiang in western China have styled themselves as militants , though attacks have not previously targeted foreigners.

In Somalia, religious authorities have cancelled Christmas entirely out of fear that festivities could provoke attacks by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab.

"We are warning against the celebration of such events which are not relevant to the principles of our religion," said Sheikh Nur Barud Gurhan, of the Supreme Religious Council.

Meanwhile in Kenya, where Shebab extremists have carried out numerous attacks including the killing of at least 67 people at Nairobi's Westgate Mall in 2013, police chief Joseph Boinnet warned of the danger of fresh attacks as Shebab splits and some factions switch their loyalty to Islamic State.

All of which pales in comparison to the fear of celebrating Christmas in the Syrian town of Sadad, on the front lines with the Islamic State.

Only a few families remain in Sadad, once a Syriac Orthodox-majority town in the centre of the country.

"I haven't put up a Christmas tree in my house for the past four years because the situation does not allow us to, and because I can't find a place for joy in my home," said Youssef, a retired 65-year-old man, whose family has fled to a safer village.

Another elderly resident, Mtanyos Mawas, sums up his hopes for the holidays. "All I want is for this Christmas to pass in peace."

- AFP/ec


Unprecedented Security In Place For French Christmas Celebrations (Update)

Updated December 25, 20157:52 AM ET

Published December 25, 20155:10 AM ET


This Christmas, after the recent terrorist attacks, Parisians pass by soldiers as they go to church. Amid huge security, they're starting to return to theaters and concerts, but tourism is down.


Let's go to the streets of a city trying to mark Christmas even as memories of violence are still so fresh. Paris is still on high alert this holiday after last month's massacre that left 130 people dead. There are thousands of police mobilized today. And let's go to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. Eleanor, good morning.


GREENE: So where are you? What's the scene? What are you seeing?

BEARDSLEY: It's pretty quiet out on the street today. I'm at a little church in my neighborhood, and the service starts in about 20 minutes here. And there are three armed soldiers guarding the entrance of the church out front with assault rifles, and this is just unprecedented. In fact, the prime minister said that France's 50,000 churches would be heavily protected on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And there are 90,000 police and soldiers mobilized across the country protecting churches like this and also ensuring France's borders. The country is under really high, high alert today at Christmas. I went actually to the American church in Paris last night and there was a long, long line down the sidewalk because everyone had to get their bag checked before coming in for a Christmas Eve service. And the priest - he thanked the French government for the security. He said this is the first time we've ever been under such security, and we thank the French state for protecting us. But it's really a strange feeling to see all of these armed men around churches at Christmas.

GREENE: I'm just struck because, I mean, you said this is a small church where you are this morning. This is a neighborhood church. It's not like this would be a specific target for some reason, so literally every single little church in Paris and around the country is probably seeing this kind of presence this morning.

BEARDSLEY: I think so, David, because yes, this is just a little church. This isn't Notre Dame. And you can imagine that every church that's having a service today has somebody protecting it, yes.

GREENE: How are peoples' spirits?

BEARDSLEY: You know, they're having Christmas. I was, you know, out shopping - you have to now get your bag checked every time you go in stores - so the lines are long, but people are dealing with it. People are celebrating. But, of course, there is in the back of everyone's mind only six weeks ago these deadly attacks. So people are accepting all of these bag searches and waiting in line because they know it's a necessary part of life now.

GREENE: Are there real threats that the government might know about, or are these just - I mean, just serious, serious precautions to make sure that nothing happens?

BEARDSLEY: David, that's interesting because usually when - before when they would say, you know, we've thwarted an attack, I would wonder did they really? I think people really believe it now. In fact, the prime minister spoke this week. He said terrorism is now something we are now having to live with. He said 10 attacks have been thwarted since the beginning of the year, and one was last week. It was targeted - the southern city of Orleans, which is south of Paris. So I think these are real threats. And actually, last year, there was a botched terror attempt. A guy was going to attack a church, and he ended up shooting himself in the foot. But he's one of these radical Islamists, and he had targeted a church. So I think people feel that these threats are real now, yes.

GREENE: Eleanor, when you and I were together covering the story after that terrible massacre last month, I know a lot of people in Paris were talking about how there was going to be this state of emergency that was going to be going on for a while, worried about - that peoples' rights would be threatened if the government was able to round up people. I mean, are - is that debate still going on there?

BEARDSLEY: You know what, David? The French government is even getting stricter. They want to enshrine parts of their terror-fighting tools, they call it. So this state of emergency, they want to put it in the French Constitution. So at the beginning of next year, in February, the French Parliament is going to be voting on amending the country's constitution to put in this state of emergency. It will allegedly make it easier for the country to come under state of emergency and it won't be called unconstitutional. Another controversial thing they're doing is they're going to revoke the French nationality of people convicted of terrorism who have double nationality. So, like, some of these men who have attacked France who are - you know, they also have, say, Moroccan nationality - they will lose their French nationality. People feel that these measures are necessary to protect them. There's just a new level of reality here now in France and in Paris. The government has raided, and they can do searches and seizures anytime they want under this state of emergency. And it's going on every single day, and people are not protesting, no.

GREENE: And Eleanor, as we go forward here, I know Paris is like New York. I mean, there are some big, big celebrations usually planned for the around the new year, right? Are they going to go forward?

BEARDSLEY: Well, David, absolutely. For a while after the attacks in November, public gatherings were forbidden. But there is a huge New Year's Eve event on the Champs-Elysees. It's much like Times Square, and they have decided to let it go forward. So that will be happening, and I'm sure that it will be under very, very tight security.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley speaking to us from outside her neighborhood church in Paris this morning. Eleanor, thanks as always and have a merry Christmas.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, David.

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