Religion news 16 April 2024

Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel. Live mass from the Church of Christ the Good Shepherd, Sydney

Orthodox bishop knifed during live broadcast service in Sydney

A 15 year old boy has been arrested after a knife attack on a bishop and three other people in an Orthodox church in Sydney.  Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was repeatedly stabbed during a sermon that was being broadcast live on the internet at Christ the Good Shepherd, an Orthodox Assyrian church. The video stream appeared to show a person walking up to the bishop and repeatedly stabbing him in the face, head and chest. He fell to the floor and was struck several more times. The video seemed to show the bishop on the floor with parishioners holding bandages against his head. “The bishop then got up, with his injuries, put his hand on the assailant and started praying”. The New South Wales ambulance service said that four men, including Bishop Emmanuel and a priest named as Father Isaac Royel, were injured and had been taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Hundreds of protesters later gathered outside the church demanding that police bring out the suspect. Riot police used pepper spray to quell the crowd in the suburb, which is about 18 miles west of central Sydney. Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel has tens of thousands of followers on social media, is an anti vaxxer, has spoken out against Covid lockdowns and was recently the subject of a TikTok film saying that he was about to die, to which he responded that he was extremely excited and didn’t want to stay in this world.

Rwanda bill amendments supported by bishops in the Lords, are rejected by the Commons

All Lords amendments to the Rwanda Bill, which allows people who come to the UK without a visa or permission to enter, to be sent to Rwanda for processing, have been voted down in the Commons. The amendments were supported by Church of England bishops, who said the bill was an immoral policy which shamed Britain.  The amendments had tried to prevent Rwanda from being unilaterally declared a safe country, to require local authorities to complete age assessments for migrants, to restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts, and to exempt all victims of modern slavery and human trafficking from the scheme. Each amendment was rejected by MPs, but they did agree to require an annual report of the scheme’s impact on modern slavery and trafficking victims. The bill will go back to the Lords today, where it is expected to be amended again, and then back to the Commons probably the day after, which can vote the amendments down again. The “ping pong” process is expected to be completed this week.

Soul Survivor former leaders say church silence on abuse must change

Matt and Beth Redman, former leaders of Soul Survivor, have spoken to Premier Christian Radio’s Soul Survivors podcast following the launch of their film outlining their experience of abuse under founder Mike Pilavachi. Both spoke of the culture of silence in church leadership, even after 40 years of abuse, the story in the headlines in the past year and more recently since their film was launched last week.  Beth Redman said the silence has to change and leaders must be held to account. She was hopeful that the independent review into the story would bring justice, unveiling who knew about the abuse, who failed to act and who looked the other way.  

The story is continuing to reverberate around the evangelical world, where Mike Pilavachi and Soul Survivor’s influence was deep rooted and widespread. Justin Humphreys, CEO of Thirtyone:eight, an organisation offering advice and consultancy on tackling abuse, said he had spoken to 600 people at Spring Harvest, an evangelical conference, held over the Easter holidays, where seminars were held on leadership and abuse.  

No sign of unity to tackle abuse across evangelical Anglican churches

A blog on the Anglican Futures website, an organisation which supports “orthodox, biblically faithful” Anglican churches some of which have left the Church of England, says two of its leaders, Dan and Susie Leafe, know 100 survivors of at least 25 abusive situations in conservative Evangelical Anglicanism alone. The writer says the unity achieved to confront revisionism, such as in the Living in Love and Faith process and same sex blessings, must also be found to tackle abuse and yet “there is no sign of that”.  It says: “The resources committed to confronting abuse are all but non-existent, and the voices, if raised at all, are extremely muted. There is no evidence of accountability across networks or even caution being shown as to who is actually suitable in terms of character to be part of any united effort”. Those who have enjoyed “power and privileges of being part of the established church, leading networks, parachurch organisations and large, wealthy, influential churches need to take responsibility for what has gone wrong on their watch”. The writer says the case for reform is urgent and lessons must be learned from the Soul Survivor story so that leaders built by dynamics of power, pulpits, platforms and publishing deals can never be excused, as in Pilavachi’s case, with the dismissive reply “That’s just Mike”.

World Council of Churches appeals for dialogue to prevent escalation of violence in the Middle East

The World Council of Churches is calling on all governments and politicians to work together to prevent a further escalation of violence in the Middle East following the first direct confrontations between Iran and Israel. In a written statement the Rev Prof Dr Jerry Pillay stressed that “violence and warfare offer no sustainable solutions and only serve to further harm vulnerable communities  and destabilize the region.” This follows an appeal by Pope Francis on Sunday,  when he called for a stop to any actions that may fuel the “spiral of violence” that risk plunging the region into an even wider war.”  Dr Pillay called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as the first necessary step to restoring life in the region and ensuring the safe return of all civilians to their homes. The statement also calls for a freeing of detainees and hostages and for the United Nations to resume its role in facilitating peace, and for other nations to foster dialogue.  The World Council of Churches represents 352 churches from more than 120 countries, with more than 580 million Christians worldwide.

Pew Research study finds majority of US Catholics give Pope a high approval rating

A Pew Research Centre survey indicates that three quarters of Catholics in the USA view Pope Francis favourably. The survey shows that the Pope’s approval rating stands at 72 per cent, though this is down by 8 per cent since 2021 and is the lowest of his papacy. Political groups are divided in their views. Democrats give the Pope a favourability rating of 89 per cent, compared to the Republicans’ 63 per cent. The survey asked questions about views on birth control, women priests and same sex marriage and finds a large majority in favour of change. The research was conducted between 13 – 25 February 2024, among a nationally representative sample of 12,693 respondents, including 2,019 Catholic adults. Other research published by Pew contains nine demographic and statistical facts about the Catholic population of the USA based on a number of their surveys – including:
– 20 per cent of American adults identify as Catholics, similar to 10 years ago
– the Catholic population is 57 per cent white, 33 per cent Hispanic, 4 per cent Asian, and 2 per cent Black, while 3 per cent are of another race
–  Around 3 in 10 U.S. Catholics (29 per cent) live in the South, while 26 per cent live in the Northeast, 24 per cent in the West and 21 per cent in the Midwest.

Catholic leader returns to Baghdad after self-imposed exile over challenge to his authority

The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church has celebrated Mass in Baghdad for the first time in nine months, following a period of self-imposed exile which he compared to “a painful pregnancy”. The Tablet reports that Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, was received by a representative of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who had issued a personal invitation to him to return. He has not been resident there since last July when he announced that he would not return to Baghdad following a dispute over the government’s recognition of his authority. The Prime Minister welcomed the patriarch’s return and affirmed his government’s commitment to fostering coexistence, fraternity, and true citizenship across all segments of Iraqi society. He also underscored the nation’s strength in diversity, highlighting Iraqi Christians’ historic contributions to building and reinforcing the state.

Research on a link between Stonehenge and the moon

Stonehenge has been traditionally associated with worship of the sun, as its rays rise through the stones especially at the turn of the seasons. Now a team of archaeologists and astronomers is embarking on a study to chart its relationship to the moon, based on the theory that its stones are related to the movement of the moon when it goes through a “lunar standstill”, rising and setting at the furthest points of the horizon. This happens every 18.6 years and is taking place again in 2024/25, so researchers are filming the moon’s position from now, to see whether the stones are placed to frame the moon’s cycle. They believe there was a lunar standstill in around 3,000 BC and this was the reason people’s cremated remains were placed around the site. The study is being undertaken by English Heritage, with experts from the universities of Oxford, Leicester and Bournemouth, and the Royal Astronomical Society.

Scottie Sheffler wins the Masters saying it is to God’s glory

The Christian Post  is one of a number of newspapers featuring the American golfer Scottie Sheffler, who dedicated his second Masters win in three years to God, declaring that “victory was secure on the cross”. His win at the Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday meant he became just the tenth golfer in history to win two green jackets in three years. “I have been given a gift of this talent, and I use it for God’s glory. That’s pretty much it. So when I’m out there, I try to compete to the best of my abilities … I feel like that’s how I was designed.” Scheffler also shared how his wife Meredith reminded him of his identity as he anticipated the big competition: “She sent a lot of prayers,” he said. “My neck was bugging me a little bit. She just prayed for some healing and prayed for a lot of peace out there. Meredith always prays for peace because that’s what I want to feel on the golf course, peace and to have fun and just feel His presence”.

Tourist dies after church bell strikes him in Spanish church bell tower

A tourist has died after being struck by a church bell during a visit to a church in Tarragona, north eastern Spain. The man, aged 30, was with a group of residents who took part in the tradition of climbing the bell tower of the church of Sant Llorenç  in El Pinell de Brai, as the bell rang out to herald the Santa Magdalena romeria, a post-Easter celebration. The bell struck him on the head and attempts to revive him failed. The local mayor has called for three days of mourning and a review of the ancient tradition.  The celebrations have been suspended.


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