Religion news 20 February 2024

WCC delegation meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Image credit: WCC

World Council of Churches leader meets President Mahmoud Abbas urging end to violence

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, met the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank, yesterday, urging an end to the “seemingly endless cycle of violence and suffering.” He is on a six-day visit to the region, meeting many religious and political leaders, including Israel’s president Isaac Herzog. President Abbas briefed the WCC delegation on the latest developments in Gaza and the West Bank and stressed the immediate urgency for a ceasefire and an end to attacks on Islamic and Christian sanctuaries. Dr Pillay, from the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, underlined the need for international and local partners to find a way to stop the war in Gaza. President Abbas affirmed that his government is prepared to participate in dialogue with the Israeli government to establish a peaceful and stable future for all people. 

Palestinian Christian pastor visiting London, says genocide and apartheid must be called out

The Rev Dr Munther Isaac, pastor of the Christmas Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, has issued an uncompromising call to UK churches, urging them to call out genocide and apartheid in the war between Israel and Gaza. Speaking to hundreds of people at a vigil for Gaza, held at Bloomsbury Baptist church, at the weekend, he said: “Gaza is the moral compass of the world.. It is really a simple choice: you either support a genocide, turn a blind eye or justify a genocide, or you cry out: No! Not in our name.” Report here with links to YouTube recording.

Newly elected Jewish MP subjected to “torrent of antisemitic abuse”

Damien Egan, the newly elected Labour MP for Kingswood in Bristol, is to receive increased protection after receiving a “torrent of intimidation and abuse” for being Jewish, and for his relationship with his partner, who has served in the Israeli military.  Jewish News says it understands the parliamentary authorities are to hold urgent talks with him as he begins his Westminster career.

Amy Winehouse statue’s star of David defaced in Camden

In Camden, a Star of David necklace on the statue of Amy Winehouse in Camden market, has been covered with a pro Palestine sticker.  The Campaign for Antisemitism says 69 per cent of British Jews are less likely to show visible signs of their religion since war in the Middle East, and their fear is explained if this can happen to a statue.  

Prayer continues in Gaza’s oldest mosque almost destroyed in air strike

Film has emerged of prayer continuing in the ruins of the Great Omar Mosque, in Gaza city, the oldest mosque in Gaza dating back 1400 years, which has been almost totally destroyed by Israeli air strikes. The mosque’s Imam Aref still recites prayers with a small number of worshippers, who set out their prayer mats among the rubble.  As of 25 January 2024, UNESCO has verified damage to 22 sites in Gaza since war broke out – five religious sites, 10 buildings of historical and/or artistic interest, two depositories of movable cultural property, one monument, one museum and three archaeological sites.

A new road tunnel near the ancient religious site of Stonehenge

 A 2km road tunnel near the ancient religious site  Stonehenge is a step nearer after campaigners lost their High Court appeal against its construction. They argued that the scheme, approved by the Department of Transport last year, would destroy part of the  world heritage site risking it being de-listed by UNESCO. But in a ruling yesterday, Mr Justice Holgate dismissed the claim saying most parts of the case were “unarguable”.  Stonehenge is the site of pagan and druid celebrations at the time of the solstice, with the ancient stones aligning with sunset and sunrise. Read our  factsheet here for other theories on its religious significance.

Permission refused for pride flag as altar frontal at a church in Leicester

The Chancellor of the diocese of Leicester, Naomi Gyane, has ruled that a pride flag incorporating a white cross, cannot be placed as an altar frontal at St Nicholas, Leicester. She said the focus of Holy Communion was to unite and remember the sacrifice of Jesus, but there was no unity around the message of the Pride flag: “The Altar frontal should be of a design that all can gaze upon, and immediately focus on in remembrance, the saving work of Christ and Christ alone.” St Nicholas is one of the ten oldest churches in the UK, with a nave dating from 879, and is now inclusive with a growing LGBT community. Law and Religion UK has the story with links to the judgment here.

Retiring Vatican archivist reveals secrets gleaned from 45-year service

Archbishop Sergio Pagano, who has worked in the secret Vatican Apostolic Archive for 45 years, is publishing a book today entitled “Secretum”, revealing some of the secrets from the past 1200 years. Pagano is shortly to retire aged 75,  and in advance of the book, he has been speaking to Italian journalist Massimo Franco, revealing nuggets of information on Napoleon’s sacking of the archive in 1810, the trial and inquisition of Galileo in 1663 and the role of Pope Pius XII and what he knew about the holocaust during the second world war. The Archive is stored in 53 miles of shelving, mainly in a concrete bunker under the Vatican. It is no longer called “secret” and can be opened to scholars, but that hasn’t stopped the spread of conspiracies, like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. AP story here. The book is here

Tens of thousands expected at Excel Centre Muslim shopping festival this weekend

Plans are well underway for the London Muslim Shopping Festival, a huge shopping extravaganza at the Excel Centre in London this weekend, with more than 250 exhibitors and the expectation of tens of thousands of visitors from across the globe. Organisers say it provides an international platform for the Halal Economy, with suppliers selling halal, modest fashion and goods for the home, alongside exhibitors from finance,  pharmaceutical, travel and media sectors, plying for custom. The Festival has grown from the London Muslim Lifestyle Show in 2016 at Earls Court, to this global event today, identifying a growth market.  Organisers says the Festival also attracts visitors from outside the Muslim community “welcoming an interest in our rich culture and industry” and showcasing its “many rich and positive aspects”.  


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