Religion news 19 March 2024

Image credit: Islamic Relief

Famine in Gaza and global food shortage in Muslim majority countries

More than 600 million people in Muslim-majority countries do not have enough food as the holy month of Ramadan gets underway, based on data compiled by the Islamic Relief Charity. In Gaza, the Israeli bombardment and blockade in response to the Hamas attacks of 7 October has cut off food supplies for many families.  The global body responsible for declaring famine, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, reports that 1.1 million people, half the population of Gaza, is already starving and there could be in a famine by July. Islamic Relief says the war in Sudan has reportedly left nearly half the population facing food insecurity. Afghanistan is suffering its worst drought in 30 years with increasing food shortages leaving more than 23 million people in need of aid. In Somalia extreme weather conditions such as drought or floods have pushed millions into hunger. More than 345 million people worldwide are currently living in Phase 3 (“Crisis”), Phase 4 (“Emergency”), or Phase 5 (“Catastrophe”) levels of food insecurity, according to the scale used by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. Of these, Islamic Relief analysis says that around 37 per cent – about 127 million – are living in Muslim-majority countries. In addition, it says millions of other Muslims in non-Muslim-majority countries where it works – such as in Ethiopia, Kenya and Myanmar – are also suffering from severe hunger.

Row over article on the Holocaust and Gaza

The lead story in the Jewish Chronicle  highlights a row about an article in the literary magazine The London Review of Books and its front page headline “The Shoah After Gaza”. “Shoah” is the Hebrew word for “catastrophe”, specifically relating to the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of six million Jews in the Second World War. The article by the writer and polemicist Pankaj Mishra describes the Holocaust as a “universal reference point …in danger of disappearing” due to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. He adds that “Israel is today dynamiting the edifice of global norms built after 1945”.  Prominent Jewish journalists have reacted with disdain, according to the Chronicle, quoting the Times columnist Hadley Freeman who noted that “left-wing intelligentsia only tries this kind of provocative thought experiment with Jews.”

One in six churches are not taking steps to reduce carbon footprint

Ecclesiastical Insurance has published guidance to support churches to reduce their climate impact, after a survey revealed that almost one in six churches admitted that they weren’t taking any steps to reduce their carbon footprint and that more than 70 per cent would like to do more, but were prevented by lack of money and knowledge. The guide, entitled Climate Change and Your Church cites how churches can manage practical challenges, including heating buildings more efficiently and how to reduce paper usage. Helen Richards, Church Director at Ecclesiastical Insurance says: “We hope this guide supports their journey to become more climate resilient, so we can help churches to thrive and preserve their amazing buildings from climate change for generations to come”.

Churchwardens need support in their vital role, as number of volunteers declines

The Daily Telegraph takes on the story of a declining number of churchwardens in the Church of England, as discovered in a Church Times survey, which found 40 per cent of respondents had only one churchwarden while between five and 21 per cent had none. The Telegraph says the shortage comes as wardens face mounting workloads and bureaucracy, quoting the Rev. Marcus Walker, chairman of the Save the Parish campaign group, who says “The national church loves to put paperwork onto the backs of clergy and volunteers, and then turns around and acts surprised when people find other things to do.”  In response, Andrew Rumsey, the Bishop of Ramsbury and joint lead bishop for church buildings, told The Telegraph there was a challenge in recruiting volunteers across the charity sector, with the cost-of-living crisis forcing people to work longer into retirement. He said volunteers are the bedrock of parishes and the church must be dedicated in supporting wardens in their vital role, which is one the oldest voluntary positions in existence.

Phoneline offering prayers and support finds new funding to remain open

On a more upbeat note, The Church Times  reveals that the free phone line service DailyHOPE will reopen, just six weeks after being forced to close down due to a lack of funding. The service was created during Covid in May 2020 to provide prayers, hymns and reflections. The chief executive of the Faith in Later Life charity, which took over the service last year, Alexandra Drew, said DailyHOPE had been “a lifeline to many older people” who were unable to attend church because of the pandemic and were unable to access online worship. She confirmed that funding had now been found and the phone line is now active. She admitted that it had been “an extremely heart-wrenching decision” to close it down due to financial difficulties. The broadcaster Pam Rhodes is quoted as saying that the decision to close it down had “brought real despair, but now we’re thankful to God that DailyHOpe has been saved.”  

Three generations of a Jain family in India renounce their wealth

The practice of devout followers of the Jain religion in India, who choose to set about earning riches “becoming among India’s most well-educated and prosperous people”, but then renounce their wealth and live on handouts, is reported in The Times. It highlights one family in Western India where “three generations of men have given up the rat race and their families”. The spiritual goal of Jainism is to become liberated from the endless cycle of rebirth and to achieve an all-knowing state called moksha. Only a reported 0.4 per cent of Indians identify as Jain, making it the smallest of the country’s six major religious groups. Satish Mehta, head of the Palanpuri Jain Association in Mumbai, said the act of renunciation carried great prestige among Jains who revered those who can tolerate the extreme deprivation. “Every so often it happens but this is the first time I have seen three generations of a family do it,” he said.

Church and state divided over decriminalising marijuana in Brazil

The Catholic Herald focuses on controversial moves to decriminalise marijuana possession in Brazil, and says it’s an issue which is dividing politicians and the Catholic Church. The head of the Brazilian Union of Catholic Jurists is quoted as saying that “marijuana is the entrance door for other drugs…They cause health, psychological and spiritual damages.” But the article also relates the views of a Catholic priest Father Valdir Silveira who has worked for more than 18 years with prisoners and who believes that the criminalisation of drugs has merely contributed to the country’s growing prison population. “The policy of criminalising all drugs…has resulted in the current crisis – mass imprisonment and growing violence”, he says. Brazil’s senate is debating a bill that would criminalise individuals carrying any amount of the drug. The Supreme Court is considering whether  decriminalising the possession of small amounts of marijuana, would be unconstitutional.

Heat pumps and triple skin urns to help churches save the planet

The Church of England has produced a film offering practical tips to churches,  cathedrals, schools, vicarages and people running all church buildings, as the church aims to reach net zero by 2030.  Clergy and lay officers describe fitting new energy saving lightbulbs, adding solar panels, using heat pumps for heating a cathedral, installing secondary glazing over stained glass and even using triple skin urns to keep boiling water hot when serving tea.


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