Religion news 21 December 2023

Church of the Nativity. Image credit: Neil Ward CC BY2.0

Christmas is cancelled in Bethlehem in solidarity with the people of Gaza

Christmas is traditionally a boom time in Bethlehem. Crowds of tourists and pilgrims usually throng the streets, keen to visit where Jesus is said to have been born. This year, however, the roads are empty, the shops shut, and Manger Square, the town’s centre, will be silent. The Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Mary is believed to have laid her firstborn among the animals in the stable, is normally busy with visitors by now. Not this year. One reason is business. Pilgrims from around the world are staying away. For those who do make the journey, there are far more checkpoints, installed since the attack, to negotiate. But there is more to the decision by the town to cancel Christmas. Church leaders and the city council decided in November to abandon festive celebrations as a mark of solidarity with the people of Gaza. Catherine Pepinster’s report on Bethlehem 2023 is here

Islamic Relief calls for ceasefire and warns Gaza death toll even higher than 20,000

Hamas has released figures saying the official death toll in Gaza has passed 20,000, and the World Health Authority has backed this assessment. But the aid agency, Islamic Relief, is warning that the actual toll is likely to be even higher because many are buried underneath the rubble. It says the vast majority of the dead are civilians and include all sectors of Palestinian society. 40 per cent are children. Places of worship have come under attack, with at least 112 mosques and three churches bombed, many of which are sheltering families. Islamic Relief is urging world leaders to demand a ceasefire. But the United Nations has delayed a vote on a ceasefire and aid delivery for a third day.

Snipers said to be removed from the Holy Family Church in Gaza

The Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, whose grandmother, cousin and his wife, and their 11-year-old twins, are sheltering in the Holy Family Church in Gaza City, has tweeted that the Israeli soldiers have moved away and can no longer be seen at the gates. She had previously highlighted through social media, the attack on a woman and her elderly mother, also sheltering, who were shot dead while walking across a yard to go to the toilet. Israel has denied the attack. In the Lords, the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, Paul Williams, urged the government to press for the release of medical staff at the Anglican run Al Ahli hospital in Gaza, who have been detained. He told the Lords: “Whilst recognising the right of Israel to pursue its legitimate military objectives, can I ask the noble minister to ensure that His Majesty’s government make clear to the Government of Israel that the targeting of religious buildings, their people, and the health care facilities they provide to the community is unacceptable, and that the church in this country expects the prompt release of medical staff detained from the highly hospital”

Catholic gay couple blessed within 24 hours of Vatican ruling

A gay couple in New York has received a blessing from a Catholic priest and LGBT campaigner, the Rev James Martin, within a day of the Vatican allowing it. Damian Steidl Jack, a floral designer aged 44, and his husband, Jason Steidl Jack, 38, were blessed in the living room of a Jesuit residence in Manhattan. The Vatican said such blessings should not resemble a wedding and Fr Martin chose Bible readings and gave his own form of words in a blessing for the couple’s relationship. The New York Times reports that progressive Catholic churches have been waiting for this ruling, quoting a priest exclaiming: “I say it is about darn time”.

Calls for more Oftsed investigation into the teaching of Religious Education

Deborah Weston, company secretary of the Religious Education Council among other roles, is appealing to Ofsted to hold more “deep dive” inspections into the teaching of Religious Education in schools. She says it’s not good enough that only five per cent of inspections are into RE, when for History for example, the figure is 55 per cent. The issue was pursued by Rachael Maskell MP who received a reply from the education minister Damian Hinds that he would look into it and place his answer in the House of Commons library.

MPs to debate Jewish communities

On Thursday 11 January , MPs will debate Jewish communities and the potential merits of a British Jewish History Month. Conservative MP for the City of London and Westminster, Nickie Aiken,  has put forward the debate.

New Bishop of Edmonton is from south India and a family lifted from Dalit communities

The Rev Canon Dr Anderson Jeremiah, senior lecturer in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at the University of Lancaster, is to be the new Bishop of Edmonton in London. He was ordained in the Church of South India and is the fourth CofE bishop to have been born in that region. As well as being an associate priest in Scotforth, he is also the Bishop of Blackburn’s adviser for black, Asian and minority ethnic affairs and has served on the church’s anti-racism taskforce. The Church Times explains his academic research is on contemporary Christianity and the shift to the global south. It reports that both his parents had fathers who converted from Hinduism and he has spoken of the part played by missionaries in “lifting vast numbers of Dalit communities out of complete social stagnation and exclusion”, while preserving the caste system.

Newcastle Cathedral project to feed vulnerable people

Newcastle Cathedral’s Café 16 will be serving 200 meals for homeless people on Christmas Eve. The initiative is a collaboration with the charity “Changing Lives”, which has launched a One Christmas Meal appeal, to help vulnerable people in the city, with food prepared by prisoners at HMP Northumberland. The project has been featured on BBC Look North, North East and Cumbria


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