Religion News 24 June

Pic: Mazur/cbcew.org.uk

Churches re-open after an ‘extraordinary’ time

Places of worship can reopen for services following the Government’s announcement that the lockdown is being eased. But physical distancing measures will be put in place and parishes must follow detailed advice. The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who leads the Church of England’s recovery group, said: “The last three months have been an extraordinary time – the first period without public worship and the sacraments in England in more than 800 years. There will be real joy as we begin to come together again.” Weddings will resume, online services will continue and a review continues into how and when singing and music can return.

Nine step guidance to re-opening mosques

The Muslim Council of Britain has produced a 9-step guide to re-opening mosques safely. The guidance urges mosque leaders to exercise caution when preparing for re-opening. Muslim communities have been hit hard by COVID-19 and the guidance says the preservation of life is most important in the coming weeks. The MCB says not all mosques will be ready to open for congregational worship from 4th July, and it is important that nobody feels rushed into reopening.

Oxford theology professor sentenced for child pornography

Professor Jan Joosten, Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford, has been sentenced to a year in jail after admitting charges of child pornography. Police said he had downloaded 28,000 images and videos depicting the most serious forms of child abuse.  Joosten taught at the University of Strasbourg for 20 years before joining Christ Church college in 2014, and was captured after a police investigation by a cybercrime unit in the city. He was not immediately sent to prison, but told he must attend a three-year treatment programme and banned from any activity bringing him into contact with minors. His sentence may be amended by an independent judge at a later date. Oxford University issued a statement saying he has been suspended pending further action.

Catholic headteachers protest at new RE curriculum in Wales

Head teachers from every Catholic school in Wales have written to the country’s First Minister to protest against the government’s planned changes to religious education. Representing more than 80 schools and 28,000 pupils, the head teachers have called for the changes to be scrapped as they believe they unfairly target Catholic schools. They say the Welsh Government plans to expand the scope of traditional RE to ‘Religion Values and Ethics’, “reduces it to an over-simplistic comparison exercise which fails to understand the fundamentals of faith and religion”.  In their letter to Mark Drakeford, they wrote: “In seeking to enforce so-called ‘neutral values’ curriculum, which we would argue is impractical and undesirable for today’s Welsh society, the risk is that the Government is moving towards a homogeneous education system which will no longer recognise the importance of allowing children to pursue a deep knowledge and spiritual understanding of faith. This will do little to improve community cohesion or foster tolerance of world religions. We believe Wales is a pluralistic, diverse and tolerant country built on respect for people with or without faith. It can only be through continuing to support a diverse provision of education facilities, that we can ensure this remains the case.”  Paul Barber, director of the Catholic Education Service, which represents Catholic schools in Wales, said: “I hope this letter from all of the headteachers makes the Welsh Government realise the overwhelming strength of feeling against these proposals to the Catholic community. They strike at the very identity of Catholic schools and at the heart of the principle that parents, and not the State, are the primary and principal educators of their children.”

Thousands visit virtual mosque open days

Britain’s mosques flung their virtual doors open to thousands of visitors in the annual Visit My Mosque Day. The tours, hosted over Zoom, Facebook Live and YouTube, were viewed by thousands of people, many of whom had ever seen the inside a mosque. The event is organised by the Muslim Council of Britain, as a way of  inviting local communities to meet their local Islamic congregation and learn about their way of life. Samer Haque, Head of Youth at UKIM Masjid Ibrahim, one of the participating mosques, said: “The virtual mosque tour enables us to invite members of our society to our Masjid [mosque], so we can work together holistically to achieve our goal and vision.”

Rath Yatra festival goes ahead in India

Hundreds of worshippers participated in a religious procession in India after the country’s highest court ruled that it could go ahead in a limited capacity, CNN reported.  The Hindu celebration usually attracts around one million people to the coastal city of Puri in Odisha.  The Supreme Court had previously ruled against the annual Rath Yatra festival, citing the high risk of infection from coronavirus. However, this was reversed when the state government promised to conduct the festival in a “limited way”.   Only those who tested negative for Covid19 could take part.