Religion news 17 April 2023

Image credit: Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London

Easter exchange of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war

The Associated Press reports that more than 100 Ukrainian prisoners of war have been released as part of an Easter exchange with Russia, filmed here.  Presidential adviser Andriy Yermak announced that 130 soldiers, sailors, border guards and others, including those on the front line in Bakhmut,  were on their way back home.  Orthodox Christianity marked Easter this weekend, as it follows a different calendar to other denominations. President Zelensky said Easter was a day of warmth, hope and great unity.  In central Kyiv, the all night service from St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery was live streamed due to a curfew but people gathered on Easter Sunday to have their  Easter eggs and baskets of food blessed by a priest. The customs were also observed at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Mayfair (pictured).

Orthodox church turned to rubble in Easter Sunday rocket attack

An Orthodox church in Komyshuvakha, south east Ukraine, was hit by a rocket in the early hours of Easter Sunday. Several media agencies have published a graphic picture of people saving icons from the rubble.

The rabbi whose wife and daughters were killed in the West Bank, calls for peace

Rabbi Leo Dee, whose wife and two daughters were killed in a terrorist attack in the West Bank, has given an interview to Sky News calling on the international community to come together to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He said violence was caused by a small percentage of the Palestinian population and the vast majority of Palestinians are good people. He also praised the foreign secretary James Cleverly for saying Britain stands unequivocally against violence and terror, believing this to be “a landmark in British history”. Rabbi Dee, his wife Lucy and their five children were travelling in two cars for a holiday in Galilee when the terrorists struck. In the interview, he spoke of the moment he heard about the attack and his immense pride in his family.

Sandford St Martin Trust warns of threat to religious broadcasting

The Sandford St Martin Trust, which promotes media programming that “engages with religion of all faiths, ethics or morality”, is taking issue with the government’s plans for the future of Channel 4. In a public response, it says it is concerned that the reform of the “publisher-broadcaster” model, which prevents Channel 4 from making or owning content, risks undermining the independent production sector and will have a “negative impact on the quantity and quality of religious and ethical content available”.

Its response follows another intervention on government policy, this time on the draft media bill published before Easter. The Trust’s chair, Dr Tony Stoller,  said the bill will loosen the existing public service broadcasting remit, which includes an obligation to provide religious and ethical programming. In a comment on its website, Dr Stoller says the protection is replaced by “a much less specific obligation to provide ‘a sufficient quantity of audio-visual content’”, but this is too vague to be enforceable . “To ignore religion is to leave a gaping hole at the heart of public service broadcasting”, he said.

Muslim adviser role restored by the White House

President Joe Biden has appointed Mazen Baswari as the senior adviser and White House Liaison to American Muslim Communities. The role was cancelled by Donald Tump, but Joe Biden promised to reinstate it “to ensure a wide range of Muslim American voices are heard within his administration”.  Baswari, who is visually impaired, was previously a lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, and his appointment has been widely welcomed. The Eid event at The White House, which had been a tradition for over two decades, was also cancelled in 2016 by Trump in advance of his travel ban on visitors from Muslim-majority countries, but it has been re-instated under President Biden.  

Another Open Iftar – this time at Wembley

The Ramadan Tent project rolled out another Open Iftar event in a public space, this time in conjunction with the Football Association, at Wembley stadium. Omar Salha said it was a truly special moment to hear the call to prayer echoing around the national stadium. England manager Gary Southgate recorded a special video and England footballer Rachel Yankey lent her support.

Evangelist George Verwer has died aged 84

George Verwer, the co-founder of the missionary organisation Operation Mobilisation, has died at his home near London aged 84. Since his retirement 20 years ago, he continued to speak at church events and write books. An American, he was converted aged 17 at a Billy Graham rally in New York City and started his mission work through distributing tracts and books in many nations, believing everyone in the world should be “given the gospel at least once”.

Coronation rituals turning Charles and Camilla into gods

Catherine Bennett, writing in The Observer, says the Church of England is doing its best to turn the new king and queen into latter-day deities. She points to one prayer speaking of “thy chosen servant Charles our King and Governor” and another celebrating Camilla’s “calling to a life of public service”. Through the ceremony, she says, the CofE “receives from the king, visibly enhanced status, while his mystical authority is, in return, supplied by the clergy in a style that might have verged on the obsequious at the Restoration”. Whatever Charles’ desire to include all faiths, she says “the Church of England has assumed ownership of the rite”.


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