Religion news 12 January

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Pope says women can legally serve at the altar in Roman Catholic church

Pope Francis has announced that women will play more of a role in the mass, the first ruling in modern times to allow women to legally serve at the altar and the first official recognition by Rome of female ministry for centuries. He has amended the law to formalise and institutionalise women’s participation by reading from the Gospel and serving on the altar as eucharistic ministers in liturgical celebrations. Both roles were previously reserved for men, though many Catholic women around the world have already been participating in this way, including in the Amazon, where women are leading Catholic communities.

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Religious leaders urge people to be vaccinated

The Chief Rabbi has urged everyone to be vaccinated against Covid-19, saying it is a “religious imperative” to take it. His advice followed an open letter from Jewish doctors saying rumours that it contained pork and could harm fertility were false.

The British Islamic Medical Association is recommending both the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Pfizer vaccinations. It has issued advice because it says the British Muslim community has been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Usman Maravia, from Lancaster University, has studied the reason for fake rumours to take hold, some based on wrong interpretations of the Quran, others wild ideas over their impact and effect. The association has published many weighty research documents designed to help imams and muftis counter arguments against vaccination.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints features in the events on Capitol Hill

The man who abseiled into the Senate chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday was a former missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, according to reports of those who knew him. Josiah Colt, 34, filmed himself admitting his guilt and then remorse, in footage posted on the East Idaho News. The story was picked by Jana Reiss, for the Religion News Service who praised Senator Mitt Romney’s behaviour in contrast. Romney, also a member of the church, told the reconvened Senate: “We gather due to a selfish man’s injured pride, and the outrage of supporters who he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning … What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States.”

British Methodists offer support to Americans facing divided communities

The president and the vice-president of the Methodist Conference in Britain have offered support to the United Methodist Church in America following the insurrection on Capitol Hill. There are an estimated 12 million Methodists in the US – the second-largest Protestant denomination. The Rev Richard Teal and Mrs Carolyn Lawrence say they understand and have experienced the way in which deeply held convictions can divide people in communities, families and churches. They pray that the call to civility might be heeded and that Methodists offer pardon where there is injury, hope where there is despair, and love where there is division.

River Jordan shrine opens after 50 years

A shrine near the site on the River Jordan, associated with Jesus’s baptism, has hosted a procession for Epiphany for the first time in 50 years. The Orthodox church celebrates Epiphany as the time when Jesus was baptised. The ceremony was possible after the area, once a war zone between Israel and Jordan, was declared free of landmines.

Muslim televangelist sentenced for sex crimes in Turkey

The Muslim televangelist Adnan Oktar has been sentenced to more than 1,000 years in jail for sex crimes against women in Turkey. His crimes included sexual assault, sexual abuse of minors, fraud and attempted political and military espionage. He preached creationism and conservative values and the court heard he had 1,000 girlfriends, who were filmed around him, scantily clad, in the TV studio.

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