Religion news 25 September 2023

Migrants arriving at Lampedusa. Image credit: Noborder Network CCLicense 2.0

Pope says migration is a fundamental right

Pope Francis marked World Migrant and Refugee Day yesterday by re-iterating that it is a fundamental right to choose whether to migrate or to remain at home. He spoke of the critical need for migration to be a voluntary and dignified choice, rather than a desperate necessity where lives were without dignity and fulfilment. He said war and climate change were forcing countless people to seek refuge elsewhere and called upon individuals and nations to respond with compassion. On Friday and Saturday, the Pope visited Marseilles for a meeting of the Mediterranean bishops, who discussed migration. He said the Mediterranean region had always been a melting pot of cultures and civilisations and called on people to “embrace the spirit of empathy and unity, welcoming those who seek refuge with open hearts and minds.” 

Alternative Catholic synod presses for women’s equality

While Catholic bishops assemble in Rome next week for their Synod on Synodality, an alternative online synod “Spirit Unbounded” will run at the same time online, with face to face meetings in Bristol and Rome. The Guardian reports that it’s organised by 45 pro-reform Catholic organisations with speakers including Cherie Blair and the former Irish president Mary McAleese, addressing women’s equality. The synods follow years of consultation with Catholics around the world on the church’s governance and mission, an initiative by Pope Francis to widen participation in debate. Strong themes emerged for progressive change, especially including the marginalised. Women will vote at the synod for the first time and Ms McAleese told the Guardian that there is pressure for change. She said women are “seen as second class and they won’t put up with it any more”. Women’s Ordination Worldwide is expecting hundreds of supporters for a march in Rome on 6 October, as the gets under way.  

Read our timeline on the process leading to the Synod of Bishops here >>

Sign up to attend our media briefing on the synod tomorrow, Tuesday 26 September, at 11am. Details here >>

Brexit prompts European rabbis to move their HQ from London to Munich

The Conference of European Rabbis, Europe’s biggest rabbinical alliance, has officially opened its base in Munich, the birthplace of the Nazi party. The organisation represents 700 Orthodox leaders from across Europe and has operated from London since 1956, but Brexit prompted it to seek a new home on the Continent. Then last year, following a successful conference in Munich, Markus Söder, the president of Bavaria, invited the CER to settle there permanently. Known as “The Centre for Jewish Life”, its aim is to make Jewish life more open and visible, while expanding educational and training programmes. Read Lianne Kolirin’s report here >>

“Catastrophic mishandling” means a quarter of Cornwall CofE churches do not offer Sunday services

The Telegraph has conducted a survey of Church of Egland parish churches in Cornwall and found more than a quarter – 78 out of 287 – were not offering a Sunday service. Of the 209 services, only 114 offered Communion. The shortage of vicars means many in rural areas have more than one parish to look after and struggle to maintain services. Save The Parish Cornwall, a local branch of a national campaign, has long protested at a diocesan drive to merge parishes and says the Telegraph’s report is “a direct and depressingly predictable result of the diocese of Truro’s catastrophic mishandling of church life in Cornwall over several years”. Rev Marcus Walker, chairman of Save the Parish, is quoted saying: “The Church of England has hundreds of millions of pounds to throw at pet causes. Now is the time to put that money back where it was supposed to be spent: parish ministry.”

Only five safe churches for LGBTQ+ students in Oxford

There are only five churches in Oxford that are totally safe for gay people, according to a survey from the University of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ Society’s Safe Churches Team. The survey was sent to 30 churches but only 11 replied, so researchers used sermons, correspondence and reports from students who had attended. The churches were then graded from “1” where homosexuality is regarded as sin, to “5” where churches celebrate LGBTQ+ people and are considered safe. They include Methodist, URC and the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. Thirteen evangelical churches scored one including St Ebbe’s. The Church Times sought a response from the rector, Canon Vaughan Roberts, who said: “We welcome a very wide range of people, including those who would identify as LGBT or same-sex attracted. It would never be appropriate in a pastoral setting to threaten anyone with hell.”

Switzerland bans the niqab

The Swiss Parliament has voted to outlaw the wearing of a niqab, a head covering for Muslim women that covers the face. It follows a referendum in 2021, when 51.2 per cent voted in favour of a nationwide ban on wearing face veils in public. The penalty is a fine of up to 1,000 Swiss francs. The Middle East Monitor says France and Belgium were the first countries in Europe to outlaw the niqab in public places in 2011, followed by Bulgaria in 2016, Austria in 2017 and Denmark in 2018.


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