Religion news 30 October 2023

Image credit: Met Police

Day 24: War in the Middle East

Israel tells medical staff to evacuate patients at Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City, but doctors say this is impossible. Desperate people in southern Gaza needing food, water and medical supplies raid UN depots as civic order breaks down. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 8,000 people have been killed. In the UK, 70,000 people took part in a pro Palestine march in London this weekend. Jewish organisations organised a community briefing over zoom amid rising concerns about safety and security.

Government concern at impact of Israel/Gaza war on community cohesion here

A COBRA national security meeting is expected to be held in London today amid concerns about the impact of the war in Israel / Gaza on social cohesion in the UK. Antisemitic attacks have risen 14 times since the Hamas assault on 7 October; and reports of Islamophobia in London have increased three times. Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley says arrests are still to be made after the large pro-Palestine demonstrations over the past few weekends. There have been disagreements between the police and government over how the law is interpreted, with police deciding not to arrest people yelling “Jihad”, because of its unclear meaning. Sir Mark told Sky News on Sunday that there was scope to be much sharper in how extremism is dealt with, as existing laws cover terrorism and hate crime, but not extremism. It is reported that a Number Ten spokesperson has appeared to rule out more legislation.

British Jewish community organisations offer online meetings on security concerns

Jewish leadership organisations held an online community briefing on security concerns last night, following the rise in antisemitism and heightened fear. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, addressed the meeting, saying it sickened him that British Jews were looking over their shoulder in this country and children were going to school covering their school badges for fear of attack. He said antisemitic demonstrations and calls of jihad are a threat to British democratic values and “we will not stand for it”. He had made it clear to police they should take necessary steps to tackle extremism. He said the government stands with Britain’s Jewish community and with Israel against terror and added that the Palestinian people are also victims of Hamas and suffering terribly.

Mark Gardner, CEO of the Community Security Trust said the community had been traumatised and terrorised by what happened on 7 October. He explained that the most common antisemitic abuse recorded was the shouting of “Free Palestine”. Other cases included ripping down posters of children kidnapped or killed by Hamas. Edward Isaacs, president of the Union of Jewish Students said the situation in universities was bleak, with one year’s worth of antisemitic abuse recorded in the past three weeks. More online briefings are planned – on Tuesday with the education secretary Gillian Keegan for parents of schoolchildren in non-Jewish schools; and on Wednesday another briefing about universities. Written guidance is also available on how to deal with confrontational discussions at work and for parents, advice on supporting children.

British Muslims facing abuse and labelled terrorists

Tell MAMA, which measures anti Muslim attacks recorded a six-fold increase in anti-Muslim cases between October 7 and October 24 compared to the same period in 2022. They logged 400 cases (191 offline and 209 online) compared to 67 cases (both online and offline) the previous year. A majority were recorded in London and included racist insults targeting Muslims, Arab and Palestinian communities, threats to home and property, harassment and violence. Cases included a man harassing a visibly Muslim woman shouting “Hamas terrorist” at her in the street, a Twitter/X post calling for the bombing of Muslims, and issues in schools including a teacher who wears a headscarf, facing abuse from a group of students linking her to terrorism. Tell Mama has safety advice in English and Arabic and urges Muslim communities to remain vigilant.

Pope calls for a ceasefire

Pope Francis has called for a ceasefire in the Holy Land. Vatican News says that “addressing the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus, the Holy Father invited everyone to “continue to pray … for the serious situation in Palestine and Israel”. In particular, he asked that humanitarian aid be allowed to enter Gaza and that all hostages be freed”.  He referred toFather Ibrahim Faltas, the Egyptian Franciscan vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, who gave an interview on Italian TV pleading for a ceasefire.  He was overwhelmed that the Pope mentioned him by name and told Vatican News that no other world leader had listened: “No one has listened; no one hears the needs of these people of Gaza who are homeless, without food, electricity, water, without anything”.

Twenty UK Christian leaders join Christian Aid in a petition calling for ceasefire

Christian Aid has launched a petition calling for a ceasefire in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, which has been signed by twenty UK Christian leaders.  It has also called for the International Criminal Court to carry out an independent investigation into war crimes. The petition says Christian Aid, leaders and organisations, “are gravely concerned by the mounting death toll across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. There can be no justification for the deliberate killing, maiming and kidnapping of civilians, which is a crime under international law and for which the perpetrators should be held accountable”. It calls for an immediate end to the violence, with the adoption of a ceasefire without conditions. The 5,000 signatories include the archbishops of Armagh, Dublin, Glasgow and the Scottish Episcopal church, as well as bishops and church leaders from many denominations in Britain.

Muslims in Wales urge First Minister to call for a ceasefire

Dr Abdul Azim Ahmed, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales, is calling on the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, to call for a ceasefire in Israel / Gaza. In an open letter, he says some Welsh Palestinians have lost entire families in Gaza during the bombing campaign and every Welsh Palestinian has family who have been displaced. “We look to you First Minister, as our representative, as the leader of Wales, to give voice and power to our grief”. The UN ‘s General Assembly has called for a ceasefire. The USA, the UK government and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer are calling for a humanitarian pause to allow aid to get through. The Labour Mayors of London and Manchester and the leader of Scottish Labour, Anas Sarwar, have broken ranks with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, and have called for a ceasefire. Dr Azim is appealing to Mark Drakeford to follow Scottish Labour’s lead.

Call for a ceasefire “irresponsible”

A joint statement from the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council issued on Friday, says UK politicians’ call for a ceasefire in the war with Hamas is irresponsible. They say: “Many of these calls are motivated by humanitarian concerns and we are deeply sympathetic to those Palestinian civilians caught in this conflict. These calls also show a worrying lack of understanding and are irresponsible coming from those in elected office here in the UK. You cannot both believe that Israel has the right to defend itself against atrocities like this and also call for a ceasefire while Hamas says it will do the exact same thing again and continues to hold over 200 hostages.”

Other news

Rome synod ends after laying foundations of significant shifts

The Rome synod of bishops ended this weekend with reflections that it had “laid the foundations for a significant shakeup of the church”.  Commenting on the groundbreaking gathering, The Tablet’s Rome correspondent, Christopher Lamb, said there were significant shifts on a range of issues, but no proposals on action – another synod will be held one year from now to take votes on policy.  The final “synthesis” document spoke of an urgent need to guarantee that women can participate in decision-making processes and take on roles of responsibility and agreed that research on allowing women to be deacons should be released within a year. The document made no mention of LGBTQ+ or of same sex blessings, which has disappointed campaigners. but it said current “anthropological categories.. are not sufficient to capture the complexity of the elements that emerge from experience or scientific knowledge and require refinement or study.” The marginalised must be listened to with unconditional acceptance.  The synod also discussed how sex abuse and financial scandals are investigated and the impact on the church’s mission.

LGBT Catholics encouraged after meeting Pope Francis

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics sent a delegation to meet the Pope in what they describe as “an historic meeting” and told him of their experiences of harassment and being marginalised. They handed him a letter with stories of the persecution and rejection of gay Christians in Nigeria, India and Eastern Europe. Marianne Duddy-Burke, the Network’s co-chair, told how some gay young people who attended the church’s World Youth Day in Lisbon, were verbally harassed, “sometimes in a threatening manner”, had things stolen from them and even stones hurled at them during the Vigil before the Mass.  The delegation recounted their stories and asked the Pope for his blessing, and the Pope responded with the words “andate avanti” (move forward). They took from the meeting that there was an evolving stance on inclusivity.

Vatican allows investigation into priest accused of abusing adult women

Pope Francis has ordered the re-opening of the cases against the Rev. Marko Ivan Rupnik, a former Jesuit, who has been accused of sexual, psychological and emotional abuse of adult women. The Vatican decided not to prosecute him because the accusations went beyond the time frame allowed. But the Pope is now waiving this restriction so that the cases can be investigated. Rupnik, aged 69, was expelled from the Jesuits and went back to his native Slovenia to continue his ministry, causing an outcry.  

200,000 children abused by Spanish Catholic clergy since 1940

An 800 page report estimates that more than 200,000 children were sexually abused by Spain’s Catholic clergy since 1940. This represents 0.6 per cent of the country’s 39 million population. But if abuse by lay people in the church is included, the number rises to 400,000, or 1.13 per cent. The report criticises the church for attempting to cover up the abuse. It was compiled by Spain’s ombudsman after an independent investigation and was presented to parliament’s lower house, then made public.

Same sex blessings dispute forced a reply in parliament

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, has provided written answers to questions from other MPs on the process surrounding the CofE’s same sex prayers of blessing. The Church Times reports that a proposal that the archbishops could authorise the prayers was supported by a large majority among all the bishops, but rejected narrowly by the mainly diocesan House of Bishops, following representations from various church organisations, warning of a legal challenge. Detailed Church Times report here

The Dark Gathering in Cornwall, as nature moves into winter

“The Dark Gathering – an event between the worlds” was held in Tintagel this weekend, marking the end of summer and the beginning of winter. It’s always celebrated on the Saturday before Halloween, with Morris dancers, musicians, and the ancient customs of the Welsh Mari Lwyd and the Cornish Oss, Penkevyll, where a decorated horse skull is attached to a pole and carried from door to door demanding entry. The Gathering re-emerged in Cornwall as a folk festival in 2014 and has grown in popularity with this weekend’s event sold out. More in our article “Samhain: how Pagans celebrate the darkness” here.


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