Religion news 5 December 2023

Palestinians inspect ruins in Gaza City. Photo by Naaman Omar, Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages

Global church leaders write to the PM to demand a ceasefire in Gaza

Sixty-nine global church leaders have joined aid agencies in signing a letter to the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, telling him that the ground invasion of Gaza must end. They say they are watching in horror as events unfold in the war and “enough is enough”. “World leaders cannot sit by while Palestinian civilians in Gaza experience such catastrophic destruction and trauma. The relentless and unrestrained bombing campaign with horrific indiscriminate effects and the ground invasion by Israel must end”.  Since 7 October, more than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza. 1,200 Israelis have also been killed. The church leaders say they are “deeply grieved by the complicity of the United States and several other Western countries in the continued violence through efforts to actively oppose a ceasefire, including by vetoing multiple United Nations Resolutions”. They call for a bilateral ceasefire, express concern at Israeli attacks against Palestinians on the West Bank, and stand against hatred towards Jews and Muslims around the world. The signatories include bishops, and moderators and leaders of free churches in Britain and Ireland.

Charities’ response to Israel-Gaza war under the spotlight

The Telegraph has two stories relating to charities’ response to the war in Israel / Gaza. It reports that the Charity Commission is investigating 70 organisations for alleged extremism or anti-Semitism, including hate speech and content of sermons.  

Another report quotes government sources saying the Interfaith Network should have taken a more active role in condemning Hamas and addressing the rise in community tensions. In a statement, the IFN made clear that it convenes a forum including national faith community bodies and it has a policy precluding it from making statements on overseas events unless there is an issue ‘directly affecting relations between different faith communities in this country’”. 

The impact of the war on Muslims and Jews in Europe

A reporter at Hyphen Online has spoken to three faith leaders in the EU to get first hand information on how the Israel-Gaza war is affecting communities of Jews and Muslims on the continent. Scharjil Khalid, imam of the Khadija Mosque in Berlin, said cases of Islamophobia had increased and security at mosques was tighter, but the main concern was that “so many people think the life of an Israeli is worth much more than a Palestinian life”. Maxo Benalal, secretary general of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, said the spike in antisemitism means people are careful about where they go and what they do, but Jews are not the enemies of Muslims and this is not a religious war, rather a war between Israel and a terrorist group. Yasri Khan, secretary general of Swedish Muslims for Peace and Justice, said rising Islamophobia is not given as much prominence as antisemitism and the public reaction has made Muslims born and raised in Sweden uncertain and questioning of their place in society.

NATRE says government should properly fund RE resource hubs

The government has announced that it is re-instating a bursary for people training to teach Religious Education, amounting to £10,000 per year, as compared to £25,000 or £28,000 for languages and science, where there is also a shortage of teachers. But education minister Damian Hinds, has ruled out government funding for “RE hubs”, which provide classroom resources, help and advice to RE teachers. Instead the Oak National Academy will provide resource material. The National Association of Teachers of RE  points out that music hubs will receive £79m a year until at least 2025 and the £320 million PE and sports premium for primary schools will be extended for at least another year from September. NATRE says that if RE is an essential part of a school’s curriculum and remains a compulsory subject in all state funded schools, “why does the government not back up these fine words with action, by funding the subject on a par with other subjects in the curriculum – including of course RE Hubs?”

Four people killed after bomb blast at mass in the Philippines

A bomb blast at a Catholic mass in a university gym in the Philippines killed four people and wounded 50 others, six of whom are fighting for their lives in hospitals nearby. Police said the bomb was made from a mortar round and hit students and teachers at the mass, in Marawi city, in the southern island.  The president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, blamed foreign terrorists and the capital, Manila, was put on full alert.

Charges re failed assassination attempt on Sikh separatist leader in US

The US Department of Justice says it has charged an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, with the murder for hire and conspiracy to commit murder for hire, in connection with a failed attempt to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who was living in New York City. It alleges Gupta was connected to and working under the direction of an Indian government employee. The indictment says the case is connected to the killing of another Sikh separatist leader and Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in British Columbia in June. Months later, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” the Indian government may have been involved in Nijjar’s murder. India’s High Commissioner to Canada Sanjay Kumar Verma, has given a wide ranging interview to Canadian CTV.

Italy’s most handsome man is to become a priest

Edoardo Santini, a male model once voted Italy’s most handsome man, has announced that he is entering a seminary and plans to become a priest. The Times reports that he posted the announcement on an Instagram video saying he wanted to ‘live his passions’ differently.  The film shows him dancing, posing and laughing with friends including at the World Youth Day, but his followers are used to him writing about faith and his inner life.  He said he had thought about this step since  he was a child and last year, to take a first step, he went to live with two priests “and that was the most beautiful experience of my life.”


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