Religion news 14 February 2024

Gaza city. Image credit: Wafa (Q2915969) in contract with a local company (APAimages) CCLicense3.0

Bishops call for ceasefire in Gaza

Bishops in the Church of England have called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, saying the manner in which the war is being prosecuted cannot be morally justified. Israaeli troops have been ordered to prepare to expand their ground operation into Rafah, a city where more than a million people have fled from fighting in the north, and which has already come under attack from air strikes. The bishops’ statement says: “With the onset of Israel’s ground offensive into Rafah, we call for an immediate ceasefire. The relentless bombardment of Gaza and its huge cost in civilian lives and civilian infrastructure must stop. The manner in which this war is being prosecuted cannot be morally justified. 
We urge Israel to adhere to the ICJ order and to ensure that Palestinians have access to food, water, healthcare, and safety, that have long been denied to them. We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recent call for an immediate pause in the fighting and would also welcome further representation to the Government of Israel about the way that it is exercising its right to self-defence and to affirm adherence to international law”. The statement goes on to support release of the remaining hostages, offers prayer for Palestinian Christians, condemns antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment,  and appeals for a just peace which “cannot result in the consolidation of a system of occupation that has for too long denied Palestinians their rights and freedoms” . 

Aid agencies call on the government to demand Israel stops offensive in Rafah

Twenty-eight aid agencies including Christian and Muslim organisations, have signed a letter to the Prime Minister calling on the UK to demand that Israel stops its offensive into Rafah. It says the UKs current path is enabling Israel’s actions with impunity and asks: “Will the UK risk further moral complicity in the ongoing death from Israeli attacks?”. The letter is here

Catholic Union holds meeting at Number 10 re faith-based school admissions

The Catholic Union’s Deputy Director James Somerville-Meikle, and Director of the Catholic Education Service Paul Barber, have met the Prime Minister’s education adviser to discuss the faith-based admissions cap on new free schools. It says the 50 percent cap on faith-based admissions applies to oversubscribed free schools with a religious character in England and has made it impossible for new Catholic free schools to open. This is because the policy is incompatible with Church law, as it may require Catholic pupils to be turned away specifically because of their faith. The meeting at No 10 is the latest stage in a long running campaign to lift the cap, which would allow the Catholic Church to take part in the free school programme, build new schools and permit existing schools to convert to academies.

Scientists meeting at the Vatican warn humanity at risk from destructive technology

 Scientists are meeting in Rome for a conference of the Pontifical Academy for Life, where they are discussing “Human: Meanings and Challenges”, the distinctiveness of human beings against the challenge of Artificial Intelligence. They are considering responsibility in technological advances and how humans can affirm their ability for emotions, desire and intentionality for the benefit of others. The academy’s president, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, told a press conference that the future of the human species is at risk of disappearing through self-destruction.

Bishops’ first amendment to Rwanda bill fails

The Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, backed an unsuccessful attempt to call in the United Nations in the row over plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. Speaking in a Lords debate, he supported Baroness Chakrabarti’s amendment that the government should only remove illegal immigrants to Rwanda if the UNHCR advised that Rwanda was safe. The amendment was also supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was not present in the debate. Bishop Christopher said there were significant concerns that the bill declared Rwanda was safe as a fact, despite the Supreme Court declaring otherwise. The government disagreed, would not accept the amendment and it was withdrawn.

“The two men behind the possible schism in the Church of England”

A history of the growing influence of evangelicals in the Church of England, which may yet lead to a split, is recorded by Kristen Thomason writing for Baptist News Global. With the title “The two men behind the possible schism in the Church of England” , Ms Thomason, a freelance writer, describes the place of the Archbishop of Cantebrury, Justin Welby, and the Rev Nicky Gumbel, formerly vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, in the story, reporting suggestions that HTB has had the goal of takeover all along. She charts the formation of “The Alliance” representing conservative evangelical and Catholic churches, led by Nicky Gumbel, the Church of England Evangelical Council and HTB’s Revitalise Trust, in the fractious row over same sex relationships. Ms Thomason is in Christian ministry and is managing editor of the Canadian based website “Via ex Machina”, which challenges religious systems. Her article also charts the links between HTB and conservative Republicans in the United States, saying Alpha USA will have a network of churches in 50 states by the end of this year.

Forty days of Lent starts today

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent in the Christian Calendar leading to Easter Sunday on 31 March. Customs include tracing the sign of a cross on foreheads with ash, fasting and prayer. The day heralds 40 days of spiritual reflection, study, fasting and abstinence. Read our factsheet listing ten facts about Lent , alongside another on Lent and Easter.

CAFOD’s Big Lent Walk launches for Lent

The Catholic aid agency CAFOD is launching a Big Lent Walk starting today, when hundreds of thousands of people commit to be sponsored for walking 200km in 40 days. That works out at 5km per day and in previous years, the walkers have raised nearly £2 million for the charity’s work abroad. One example this year is Therese Wynn-Davies from CAFOD’s digital fundraising team, who is walking with another mum, two prams and four children.

Ten top facts about St Valentine

Catherine Pepinster offers the ten top facts about St Valentine, and the mystery surrounding who he was. He was martyred on 14 February 269, but was he an evangelist, a man who conducted weddings and was executed as a result, or a man who fell in love with a girl signing his letter “Your Valentine”? Our factsheet on the ten top facts about St Valentine  is here

Red is the colour, modesty is the game

Red may be the colour associated with today, but Hafsa Lodi writing for Hyphen Online, warns that some more conservative members of Muslim communities view the colour red in fashion as “vampy, untamed and wild — even if a woman is covered head to toe”. The author of Modesty: A Fashion Paradox, Ms Lodi says she discovered some Turkish women and orthodox rabbis consider red to be incompatible with modest dress, while in other cultures, red is the chosen colour for a wedding dress. She quotes fashion designer Maryam Khan who explains that red is a powerful and emotional colour, with an “essence of passion and strength, but also a feminine presence” and to be a confident choice, it must be worn with the right intentions.

Briefing on the Inter Faith Network tomorrow

Tomorrow, Thursday 15 February, at 1200 noon, we are holding a briefing on the impending closure of the Inter Faith Network, after the government’s decision to withhold funding. Hosted by Rosie Dawson, the panel so far includes Harriet Crabtree CEO of the IFN, Madeleine Pennington Head of Research at Theos, and Susan Siegal from Interfaith Scotland. Get the zoom link from [email protected]


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