SOURCE: Go Knoxville
Looking toward a rising storm in the Middle East, he warned that the persecution of religious minorities is a sign of the end times.
"It will be like the triumph of the prince of this world: the defeat of God. It seems that in that final moment of calamity, he will take possession of this world, that he will be the master of this world," said Pope Francis. "Religion cannot be spoken of, it is something private, no?"
A year later, the pope was even more specific in a letter to churches in the ancient lands of the Bible.
"I write to you just before Christmas, knowing that for many of you the music of your Christmas hymns will also be accompanied by tears and sighs. Nonetheless, the birth of the Son of God in our human flesh is an indescribable mystery of consolation," said Pope Francis.
"Sadly, afflictions and tribulations have not been lacking, even more recently, in the Middle East. They have been aggravated in the past months because of the continuing hostilities in the region, but especially because of the work of a newer and disturbing terrorist organization, of previously unimaginable dimensions, which has perpetrated all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts. It has particularly affected a number of you, who have been brutally driven out of your native lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times."
Pope Francis was, of course, referring to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — a reign of death and destruction that was selected as the year's top religion news story by members of the Religion Newswriters Association. And once again, Pope Francis was selected as Religion Newsmaker of the Year.
Here is the rest of the RNA Top 10 list, which included several ties:
2. The Supreme Court, in another 5-4 decision, rules that two closely held companies — Hobby Lobby and Conestoga — can claim religious objections to the Affordable Care Act mandate requiring most religious institutions to offer employees, and often students, health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including "morning-after" pills.
3. A rapid deterioration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict includes the kidnappings and murders of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, amid increasing tensions over access to the Temple Mount. This includes an Israel-Hamas war that leaves more than 2,000 dead and a hellish attack on rabbis at prayer in a synagogue. (TIE) Pope Francis continues his efforts to reach out to the needy, to marginalized Catholics and to people of other faiths.
4. Liberal Protestants continue to move toward full acceptance of same-sex marriage and the ordination of noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy.
5. Health care workers, many of them missionaries or activists from faith-based groups, courageously carry on with their work during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
6. A broad coalition of Catholics, mainline Protestants and some evangelicals, especially in Latino congregations, celebrate President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration reform.
7. Pakistani Muslim Malala Yousafzai — still recovering from Taliban gunshots in retaliation for her work supporting the education of girls — shares the 2014 Nobel Prize with children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, a Hindu from India.
8. Clergy and other activists from faith-based groups help support peaceful protests against racial injustice in Ferguson, Missouri, both before and after a grand jury fails to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. Similar protests take place in New York, after another case in which an unarmed black man died in an altercation with white officers.
9. After years of debate, the Church of England votes to allow women bishops. For the first time, women lead three of America's major mainline Protestant churches, and the U.S. Navy names its first female head chaplain.
10. India elects Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as prime minister, creating tensions with the land's religious minorities. (TIE) Movie critics proclaim 2014 as "The Year of the Bible" after the latest wave of films centering on events in the Bible — from Noah to the Exodus and on to the Rapture — or focusing on other religious themes.
Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.