Religion news 14 April

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> Ramadan, Vaisakahi and Chaitra Navratri this week > Church leaders urge politicians to unite for peace in Ireland > 8 minute sermons or go to the Tower

Archbishop’s terrifying prospect of preaching in front of the Duke of Edinburgh

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has paid tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh, recalling the “terrifying experience” of delivering a sermon in front of him. Addressing the Religion Media Festival “Exploring Belief” Dr Williams said: “That was a very terrifying experience, I can tell you. He made it very clear what he thought a good sermon required. I was told very, very firmly, that going over eight minutes would probably land me in the Tower of London.”  Sharing his recollections of the Duke, Dr Williams said he was struck by how Prince Philip would listen very carefully and argue very closely. And he was really struck and rather surprised, when they first had a long conversation, at his familiarity with the Greek language and the Greek Bible of his birthplace – despite being forced into exile as a toddler.  Read our full report here 

Northern Ireland church leaders say politicians should unite to preserve the peace

Northern Ireland church leaders have called on political leaders in Belfast, the Irish and UK governments, and the European Union to form a united response to protect the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace and stability to Northern Ireland. Their appeal follows ten days of clashes in Belfast, when rocks, stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown at police, and cars and even a bus were set alight. The Catholic Primate of All Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin, Anglican Archbishop John McDowell, and several others said all politicians should  genuinely seek solutions and address legitimate concerns, otherwise they fear another  generation will be plunged into the darkness of resurgent Troubles.

The crescent moon has been sighted and Ramadan has begun

The faint sighting of the crescent moon by astronomers in Saudi Arabia, has marked the start of the holy month of Ramadan. As Muslims prepare to observe Ramadan with social restrictions remaining in response to the coronavirus, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain Zara Mohammed has issued a message of support and encouragement. She said it remains imperative to keep safe, observing the Covid-19 rules, and pointed to various guides giving advice on adapting the season’s activities. Faced with bereavement, isolation and lost incomes, Muslims have a duty, she said, to offer support to those most in need and be of service and should strive to emulate the example of tireless efforts made by front line workers.

Vaisakhi celebrations adapt to the Covid-19 restricted world

Sikhs throughout the world are celebrating Vaisakhi, a traditional Punjab harvest festival which also marks the birth of the Khalsa, a group standing up for moral and spiritual principles, by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru, in 1699. It is usually a vibrant festival with processions, singing, food and prayers. But this year Sikh Council UK observes that alternative celebrations are springing up such as placing handcrafted flags (Nishaan Sahibs) outside houses, wearing orange head coverings (Dastaars/Chunnis) during daily exercise, virtual services (divaans) and live streaming special broadcasts from Gurdwaras around the world. See our fact sheet on Vaisakhi here

Chaitra Navratri celebrating the Hindu goddess Durga

The nine-day Hindu festival Chaitra Navrati has begun, dedicated to the nine different forms of the Goddess Durga, the protective warrior mother of the universe. Multi limbed, often depicted sitting astride a lion or tiger, she battles the forces of evil in the world war, with stories of combating demonic forces which threaten peace and prosperity.  This year, Chaitra Navratri will begin April 13 and continue till April 22. In fact it is one of five such Goddess celebrations throughout the year, featuring prayers, story telling, services and bright decorations.

Seven Catholic clergy abducted in Haiti

Seven clergy were among ten people abducted in Haiti by kidnappers demanding $1million ransom money. The Catholic church warned that Haiti is facing a “descent into hell” and condemned government inaction, complacency and complicity. Two of the clergy were French and the French Bishops’ Conference and other French clergy expressed their deep concern and urged the kidnappers to free the men and women of peace. Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs.

LGBT government advisory panel disbanded as PM confirms prayer allowed for people conflicted over sexual identity

A panel set up to advice the government on LGBT issues is being disbanded after three members resigned, complaining that the government was “dragging its feet” on a pledge to ban conversion therapy. The practice involves Christians opposing same sex practice, counselling people conflicted over their sexuality in attempts to change or suppress their identity. Jayne Ozanne, prominent gay evangelical Anglican, who was the first to resign, said it as a shame the panel had been disbanded. On 12 March Boris Johnson said the government would ban “this repulsive practice” and then, following a strident letter of complaint from the Evangelical Alliance, he wrote to them on 27 March saying the government would “continue to allow adults to receive appropriate pastoral support (including prayer), in churches and other religious settings, in the exploration of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Like you, I do not want to see clergy and church members criminalised for normal non-coercive activity.” Premier Christian News has seen the letter.

Met police regret shutting Good Friday service in Polish Catholic church

Met Police say it deeply regrets the upset caused when two officers shut down a Good Friday service for breaching coronavirus rules. Film on social, media showed officers going to the mic at Christ the King in Balham, south London, and ordering them to leave. This weekend, officers again visited the church to apologise saying  there had been “significant reflection and learning” by police reviewing the incident.

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