Religion news 3 April 2023

Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. Image credit: Richard Sewell @sgcjerusalem

Pope presides at Palm Sunday mass day after leaving hospital

Pope Francis has made his first public appearance after being released from hospital with breathing difficulties, joking with waiting reporters: “I’m still alive”.  Presiding at the mass for Palm Sunday at St Peter’s Square, he recalled the suffering of Jesus and his experience of feeling abandoned, telling the story of a German homeless man, Burkhard Scheffler, who died in November 2022 underneath the colonnade of Saint Peter’s Square, and urging the faithful to find Jesus in the abandoned, in those who are alone.

London clergy opposed to same sex relationships declare UDI

A group of ten priests in London have created their own “City of London Deanery Chapter” in a campaign of resistance to the CofE’s decision to allow same sex blessings in church. The ten include Rev Chris Fishlock of St Nicholas Cole Abbey and their chosen area dean, the Rev Phil Martin of St Botolphs Aldersgate, whose filmed statement is on the website of St Helen’s Bishopsgate.  They say their move supports “the work of bodies within the Church of England such as the Church of England Evangelical Council, who’ve encouraged churches to take widescale and far reaching action in order to make good protest” and their new chapter is a demonstration of new structures in the church. They encourage other clergy to join their resistance to the bishops, and pledge to pursue the selection, training and commissioning of ordinands who share their views. The Diocese of London says: “A group of clergy in the City of London is seeking to set up its own parallel, unregulated structures, outside of those of the Diocese of London and the Church of England. This unilateral move would have no legal substance. The initiative has been announced publicly, without discussion, at a time when constructive ongoing dialogue continues here in the capital and across the country” . CofE bishops are preparing wording for prayers and guidance, which will come before the July General Synod.

Call for Indian Jesuit to be cleared of terrorism allegations

Jesuit Missions UK and the Xavier Network are calling on the Indian Government to clear the name of the late priest, Fr Stan Swamy, who died in custody on charges that he plotted acts of terrorism. Fr Stan died of Covid while in custody in Mumbai in July 2021 – he also had Parkinsons, yet he was being accused of trying to assassinate Modi. Jesuit Missions, the international mission and development office of the Jesuits in Britain, says new evidence has come to light which proves that he was systematically targeted during a four-year campaign, when falsified evidence was planted on his  computer.  They say the Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm Arsenal Consulting have carried out a full audit of Fr Stan’s computer and have concluded that files implicating the priest in terrorism were planted on his computer via the ‘Netwire’ remote access Trogan software. A petition to clear his name has attracted 10,000 signatures across India. Guardian story here

Songs of Praise tender won by CTVC

The BBC has announced that CTVC has won the competitive tender to produce Songs of Praise on BBC One, from a shortlist of four. The contract is for two years, and covers 51 episodes per year, which will continue to be fronted by the show’s regular presenters.  Songs of Praise was previously co-produced by Afanti and Nine Lives and was put out to tender last May after the two companies agreed to bring their partnership to an end after five years.

French football matches will not pause to allow breaking of Ramadan fast

The French Football Federation is said to be prohibiting the pausing of matches during Ramadan that allow Muslim players to break their fast. Multiple media reports say an email was sent to referees across France from the Federal Commission of Referees saying that “match interruptions do not respect the provisions of the Statutes of the FFF”. It says there is a time for everything – a time to do sport and a time to practise religion and disciplinary and or criminal proceedings will be taken for violations of this prohibition.  The English Premier League has announced that players will be allowed to break their fast mid-match during Ramadan.

4,000 calls a month from Muslims in need in the UK

The National Zakat Foundation says it has received 4,000 calls for help during March from Muslims in Need in the UK. It says this amounts to calls every 12 minutes, which it says is an unbelievable figure. It is appealing to Muslims to give during Ramdan “as members of the UK Muslim community to be there for each other in times of struggle”. It says donations make a difference in the lives of those who are isolated, hungry and scared of the future.

Chaplain awarded compensation

 A Catholic chaplain who lost his job has been awarded £10,000 after the NHS Trust he worked for said equality and diversity “take precedence over religious belief”, a statement they subsequently said should have been phrased differently as all protected rights are equal. The Telegraph reports that the Rev Dr Patrick Pullicino, 73, a former consultant neurologist, lost his job with South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust after a patient, who was in a same-sex relationship, asked for his opinion on marrying his partner, and he replied: “What do you think God would say to you about this?”. The patient complained and Fr Pullicino had his contract terminated while he was on annual leave in January 2020 “due to the budgetary constraint”. The London NHS Trust denied discrimination and awarded him £10,000 in compensation “for perceived injury to feelings”. His case had been  taken up by the Christian Legal Centre.

Freedom of religion and belief threatened in public sector

The Catholic Union has raised concerns that freedom of religion and belief in the workplace is under threat, especially in the public sector. A survey of 200 of its members highlighted particular problems in hospitals, universities and the police. One lay chaplain in an NHS hospital spoke of a “pathological closing down” of chaplaincy work, another responder was subject to a formal complaint for saying “God bless” to a patient. Problems were also reported in the Arts where “people are ‘cancelled’ if they are even suspected to adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church” according to one responder.

Board of Deputies criticised over response to Illegal Migration bill

Gary Mond, chair of the National Jewish Assembly, has challenged the Board of Deputies over its criticism of the Illegal Migration Bill. In a comment published in the Jewish Chronicle, he says this issue is “not one of concern to the Jewish community as a whole in our capacity of being Jews” and was a political statement without general support. He accuses the Board of a lack  of leadership and says “controversial political positions must never be presented as the sentiment of an entire community, and in doing so the Board has misrepresented British Jewry”. The Board’s criticism led to the Home |Secretary Suella Braverman telling the Community Security Trust’s annual dinner on Wednesday night, that communal organisations should “transcend lines of political difference if they are to remain representative of their diverse communities”. Gary Mond has been a Conservative parliamentary candidate twice and set up the Assembly in 2022 to represent grass roots within Judaism.  

Hermit huts for overcrowded Christian retreat centre

The Ffald y Brenin Christian Retreat Centre and House of Prayer in Pembrokeshire has been given permission to create five hermit huts, partly buried in the hillside, to allow people to get away from the day visitors attracted to the centre which becomes overcrowded. The BBC reports that the application said a “review of the original vision highlighted a need to provide several quiet spaces away from daily retreat activities and the comings and goings of day visitors ..often travelling from abroad, interrupting the intended tranquillity of the environment.” It is anticipated that people will meditate in the huts rather than stay overnight.


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