Coronavirus and religion – update 7 April 2020

By Tim Wyatt 

UK

  •  In the build-up to Easter, an umbrella group of Churches across Britain and Ireland have released a joint call to prayer for those suffering from the coronavirus. In a rare shared statement, all the UK and Ireland’s major denominations urged Christians to follow the example of Daniel from the Old Testament, who although separated from his Jewish homeland and fellow believers while in exile in Babylon continued to pray from his home.
  • The Church of England has gone further than the official government guidelines and for several weeks now ordered all clergy to not go into their church buildings, even if alone, for prayer or communion. This has been largely adhered to, although there have been increasing pushback from a minority of vicars to this prohibition. Now, the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, has written a column in the Daily Telegraph urging the re-opening of churches to the public in time for Easter (although continuing with two-metre social distancing). He also suggests parishes go ahead with traditional Good Friday processions through the streets “as a sign of cleansing and healing and suffering producing hope”
  • As well as Easter, the important Jewish festival of Passover is fast approaching. The takeaway delivery service Deliveroo has teamed up with the Jewish charity Chabad Lubavitch UK to offer a ‘Seder-to-go’ option for those self-isolating at home and unable to venture outside. The packs will include all the elements necessary for a Seder, the traditional meal shared by Jewish families on Passover during which they remember the ancient Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. In Israel, the government has ordered a complete lockdown of the whole country over Passover. The earlier festival of Purim in March is believed to have accelerated the spread of Covid-19 throughout Israel.

OTHER NEWS

  • In other non-virus news, the new leader of the Labour Party Keir Starmer has held a video conference with representatives from the UK’s Jewish community as he begins to mend fences following the antisemitism scandal within Labour. In a statement released afterwards, Starmer pledged to set up an independent complaints process and to co-operate with the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into Labour antisemitism. The Jewish community leaders said Starmer had achieved more in four days to address antisemitism in the party than Jeremy Corbyn had done in four years.
  •  Australian Catholic Cardinal George Pell, who had been the most senior Catholic cleric to be found guilty of historic child sexual abuse, has been released from prison after the high court overturned his conviction. The judges ruled the original jury in Pell’s trial in 2018 should have concluded there was reasonable doubt about the account of a choirboy who said Pell assaulted him in 1996 inside a cathedral in Melbourne. Pell was in charge of the Vatican’s finances before his downfall. Some observers have suggested Pope Francis made a cryptic reference of support for Pell during his daily mass the day after the cardinal was released, when he prayed for “all those people who suffer unjust sentences”. Full report and background here