Pope apologizes for deaths of Protestants

Pope Francis officially apologized for persecuting Protestants on January 25 as he unveiled plans for a radical push for unity during the 500th-anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation.

“As the bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I would like to invoke mercy and forgiveness for the non-evangelical behavior of Catholics toward Christians of other churches,” he said. “At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if today, or in the past, they have suffered offense by other Christians.”

“Non-evangelical behavior” is a euphemism for the massive violence the Vatican unleashed in the wake of the Reformation. Modern scholars estimate that 50 million people died in the religious violence that followed—in persecutions, counter persecutions and religious wars.

But the pope and Protestant leaders are preparing to put all that aside. Commemorations of the Reformation will kick off on October 31, 499 years after Martin Luther is traditionally believed to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This outlined Luther’s disagreement with the Vatican and led to the massive splitting away of churches protesting against Rome.

In January, the pope announced that to mark the beginning of the 500th-anniversary year, he would travel to Sweden, where the Lutheran World Federation was founded, and hold a joint service with Lutherans. In the past, Lutheran leaders have said they hope to fully
heal their divide with Rome during this 500th-anniversary year.

Catholic-Lutheran unity has already taken great strides over the past couple of decades. In 1999, the Lutheran World Federation signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Vatican. This doctrine was at the heart of Luther’s disagreement with the Catholic Church that led to his excommunication; now it has been overcome.

In 2007, the Catholic Church and the Lutheran, Orthodox, Methodist, Anglican and Armenian-Apostolic churches in Germany all agreed to recognize each other’s baptisms as valid. “Five hundred years ago wars were fought over the very issues about which Lutherans and Roman Catholics have now achieved consensus,” said the presiding bishop over the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Elizabeth A. Eaton. There are still some points of disagreement, but much of the heavy lifting is done.

It is interesting that the Catholic Church is focusing on healing this divide as Europe as a whole is increasingly desperate for unity. The Trumpet has long said that the church will play a major role in unifying Europe. In 1961, news forecaster Herbert W. Armstrong wrote that “once again, the only unifying authority which the coming 10 nations of Roman Catholic Europe can accept is the pope of Rome!”

Decades ago, Mr. Armstrong saw the potential for religious unity and political unity to be linked. “Protestant churches everywhere are gravitating toward union with the Roman Catholic Church,” he wrote in 1963. “These religious movements are speeding the fulfillment of the prophecies of the resurrected Roman Empire” (co-worker letter, Oct. 27, 1963). He actually began watching for this long before the famous Second Vatican Council in the 1960s that revolutionized the Catholic Church’s approach to outside groups.

Bringing the church bearing the name of Martin Luther back into the fold would boost the numbers, the prestige and the reach of the Catholic Church. In Germany, for example, 30 percent of the population is Catholic, and about 30 percent is Lutheran. When the Vatican reestablishes its power over the churches that came out from it, the pope will speak for the overwhelming majority of Europe’s Christians.

For more on what such unity will mean for the rest of the world, read “Returning to the Fold” from our free booklet He Was Right.

Iranian photos show U.S. sailor crying

Iranian state-controlled news outlets released new photographs of the U.S. sailors who were detained in January for accidentally entering Iran’s waters. The photos, as well as an accompanying video released February 10, show one of the sailors crying.

The release of the pictures came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry apologized and thanked Iranian officials for releasing the captured sailors. “I’m appreciative for the quick and appropriate response of the Iranian authorities,” he said on January 13. “All indications suggest or tell us that our sailors were well taken care of, provided with blankets and food, and assisted with their return to the fleet earlier today.”

A previous set of photos showed the detained U.S. sailors at gunpoint while being forced to kneel in submission and put their hands behind their head. An earlier video also shows a sailor apologizing for drifting into Iranian waters.

The new photos of the weeping sailor are another win for Iran—as it clearly demonstrates to regional nations who the king of the Middle East really is. For more on this trend, read “Iran Humiliates America—and Receives Thanks in Return.”

Islamic State infiltrating Libya

Chaos continues to reign in Libya, five years after the United States led the military campaign that deposed dictator Muammar Qadhafi and supposedly liberated the North African nation. Now the Islamic State is angling to take advantage.

American national security officials pressed U.S. President Barack Obama early this year to open another front in Libya, where many Islamic State top commanders and operatives have sought refuge from the ongoing air strikes in Iraq and Syria. Islamic State leaders have also redirected most of the flow of incoming recruits to Libya instead of Iraq and Syria.

According to U.S. intelligence estimates in February, as many as 6,000 Islamic State fighters may be in Libya—more than double what experts had previously estimated.

“The last thing in the world you want,” warned Secretary of State John Kerry, “is a false caliphate with access to billions of dollars of oil revenue.” Kerry sounded that warning in Rome on February 2 at a conference of 23 nations that met to discuss the growing threat of the Islamic State in Libya.

But already the Islamic State has seized vast oil fields in Libya, tapping into an oil supply 20 times larger than the one in its Syrian home base.

Security officials also fear the Islamic State will easily take advantage of the divided government in Libya. The nation is currently in anarchy, caught in a war between an internationally recognized government in Tobruk and an illegitimate government that controls the capital, Tripoli.

The Obama administration is reluctant to engage militarily in yet another Middle Eastern country. But apparently Europe, which is only 400 miles from Libya, isn’t. At this conference, European leaders proposed an Italian-led European force of about 6,000 troops to stabilize Libya. Some leaders would rather delay intervention until a unity government is formed in Libya, but others argue that waiting will only allow the Islamic State to consolidate its gains there.

German diplomat Martin Kobler, the United Nations special representative to Libya, told Spiegel Online, “[I]t was a mistake to have left Libya alone after 2011. We got ahead of ourselves. And that is precisely why it is so important now that we not abandon the country again” (February 4).

Don’t expect Europe to give up on Libya. It is increasingly wary of radical Islam and is facing a growing threat of terrorism on European soil.

However Europe responds today, the Bible indicates that the ultimate military intervention in Libya will be part of a “whirlwind” attack by Europe on Islamist nations in the Mideast and North Africa (Daniel 11:40-43). That attack will target Iran and nations aligned to it. The chaos in Libya makes it vulnerable to outside powers, particularly those with Islamist aspirations. Iran happens to be just such a power.

Iran’s newest target

Iran’s strained relations with Hamas are forcing the Islamic Republic to look for more partners in its goal of conquering Jerusalem. Iran appears to have found them in al-Sabireen, “the Patient Ones.”

The Jerusalem Post reported February 9 that sanctions relief from the nuclear deal with Tehran not only enriched Iran, but also emboldened it to recruit more loyal and even more radical proxies in its campaign against Israel.

Founded in Hamas-controlled Gaza, al-Sabireen consists of former members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad who think Hamas is “too soft” on Israel. The Post reported that al-Sabireen wants the entire Palestinian population to become an Iranian proxy in the region.

In al-Sabireen, Iran has found a group willing to wipe out the “Zionist entity” and replace it with an Islamist empire. Its leader told Palestinian news agency Ma’an that the group is “an armed branch whose goal it is to wage war on the Israeli occupation everywhere.”

The Post also warned about another Iranian terrorist proxy targeting the West Bank: Hezbollah. In January, Israeli security forces foiled a Hezbollah suicide bombing and shooting plot there.

Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry forecasts what is about to happen in Israel in his booklet Jerusalem in Prophecy (request your free copy): “Today the Arabs live in roughly one half of Jerusalem. They just don’t control it—yet. … Looking at the ongoing violence in Jerusalem today … we can easily see how one half of Jerusalem shall be taken captive in the very near future. The present violence is an embryo that is about to grow into much greater violence. That is the critical event prophesied in Zechariah 14:2.”

Russia is enabling Islamic State, Assad

Russia’s military campaign in Syria is helping the Islamic State terrorist group, according to a February 10 statement by a United States official. Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State at the U.S. Department of State, said the Russian-backed offensive in northern Syria is drawing local fighters away from the battle against the Islamic State and toward the front lines in the war against the Syrian government. He said that Russia’s maneuvering is “directly enabling” the Islamic State, which is “causing a humanitarian catastrophe” in the region. “It’s strengthening the regime of Assad,” McGurk said. “And all that does is fuel extremism on both sides of the sectarian divide.”

Zika’s explosive, apocalyptic spread

The World Health Organization (who) declared the Zika virus outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” on February 1. By definition, that declaration means the Zika outbreak became “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”

Over 20 countries have confirmed Zika cases, Brazil being the worst affected, with an estimated 1.5 million cases. who estimates that there could be as many as 4 million cases of Zika worldwide by year’s end.

Health authorities believe the virus may be linked to the fetal deformity microcephaly, which can cause seizures or neurological defects.

According to the who, Zika has spread “explosively” through the Aedes mosquito, as well as through sexual intercourse. The governments of Brazil, El Salvador and Colombia have recommended against pregnancies for a period ranging up to 24 months—which Stratfor predicted could hasten socioeconomic decline in the region.

For those familiar with Bible prophecy, fear of a global pandemic brings to mind the image of the pale, or sickly, horse of the apocalypse, as described in the book of Revelation. Disease epidemics are prophesied for the end time. For more information, request our free booklet The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

China’s new economic weapon

On January 16, China inaugurated its new international investment bank. Chinese President Xi Jinping told the assembled dignitaries that they were part of “a historical moment.”

Former United States Treasury Secretary Larry Summers called China’s efforts to establish this institution—and the failure of the U.S. to persuade its allies to stay out of it—a “wake-up call” for America and the most important economic event since America led the world off the gold standard in 1971. “[T]his may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system,” he wrote (April 5, 2015).

Luxemburg’s finance minister said the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (aiib) is “further proof of the rebalancing of the world economy.”

For China, the aiib is about asserting its leadership in Asia and offering an alternative vision to the post-World War ii institutions championed by America. But ultimately it is about driving the U.S.-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund from mainland Asia—and eventually all the way back to Hawaii.

Speaking at the opening ceremonies, the aiib’s first president, Jin Liqun, said the bank would focus on building connectivity in Asia. Jin also said that while the bank would initially make loans in dollars, it will eventually transition to using euros and yuan.

China is openly challenging America. And many of America’s closest allies—Britain, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, France, Taiwan—have joined China’s bank. Even nations like the Philippines, who depend on America for geopolitical support, fear China more, and have joined.

The infrastructure of the aiib is being built for a world without the United States.

The balance of power is shifting in Asia. European money is backing Chinese willpower. It is a potentially potent combination. China gets to decide who gets how much, and European companies get a shot at building the projects and investing alongside China. And the United States gets left on the sidelines.

Japan’s stealth jet capability

Japan’s Defense Ministry unveiled a demonstration of the first Japanese-made stealth plane, the X-2, on January 28. The new plane, developed by Mitsubishi Industries, puts Japan on the list of only a handful of nations to have developed aircraft with stealth capabilities. Preparations and final tests are under way for the radar-dodging aircraft’s maiden flight. Japan spent some $332 million developing the jet. The director for the Defense Ministry’s division for aircraft development told reporters that although the X-2 is currently a demonstration aircraft, Japan at least now has the option to develop such aircraft for possible deployment in the country’s self-defense forces.