Religion news 25 March 2024

Palm Sunday in passion play, Brighton. Image credit: Passion Plays

Producers take advice to remove antisemitic themes from passion plays

Organisers of passion plays being performed across Britain in the run-up to Easter have been urged to be vigilant about antisemitism in the content. The Council of Christians and Jews  has warned that in the wake of the Israel-Gaza conflict and growing antisemitism in Britain over the past five months, passion play producers and performers must take extra care as they recount the events leading up to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  The Rev Nathan Eddy, co-director of the CCJ, said: “There is a connection between passion plays and antisemitism and people can be forgetful of that. The charge of deicide against the Jews was only addressed after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, and it is shocking to think of that”. As Catherine Pepinster reports, producers from Edinburgh to Havant have all been taking advice and reviewing scripts. Her article is here

Labour pledge to work with faith groups which have a “vital role in decade of renewal”

Sir Stephen Timms, Labour MP and committed Christian, has pledged that an incoming Labour government will work with churches and other faith organisations, whose role in Covid has proved that they have the assets to serve the needy and unite communities. In an article in The Times, he said local government had often been nervous of working with faith groups in the past fearing they would proselytise or favour their own groups: “And let’s be honest, for some, the people involved in faith appear odd. They believe in God!”. But there was a recognition that society is better off for the contribution of faithful people who seek to love their neighbours and serve their communities.  He said faith will play a vital role in the party’s plans for a decade of renewal: “In a country desperate for renewal, people of faith hold the key”. He said plans were underway for faith ministers to liaise and work with government ministers: “Sir Keir Starmer has pledged that a Labour government will harness the energy and creativity of faith and civil society”. Sir Stephen is chairman of the Labour Faith Champions, a group of 20 MPs, appointed by the Labour leader to work with the UK’s faith communities, and he was excited about the role that faith can play in a future Labour government.

Prayers for the King and Princess as they face cancer

Prayers were said in churches this weekend for the Princess of Wales and the King, as both confront cancer. The Church of England published a prayer for the Princess and all who “are affected by sickness”. The Archbishop of Canterbury praised Catherine’s spirit of optimism and joined the whole country in praying for her full recovery. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said her filmed message to the nation gave encouragement to “all who carry the burden of ill health”.

Pope skips the homily at Palm Sunday mass

 Pope Francis skipped reading the homily at the Palm Sunday service in St Peter’s Square, brushing away an attempt to pass him his glasses and causing a short pause of silence.  Aged 87 and suffering from mobility and respiratory problems, he didn’t participate in the procession of cardinals around the obelisk in the piazza at the start of the Mass. Instead, he blessed the palm fronds and olive branches carried by the faithful, from the altar.

Opus Dei accused of coercion and exploiting vulnerable young women

The Financial Times magazine has carried an investigation into the Catholic group Opus Dei, after speaking to women who joined the community imagining they would learn hospitality skills, only to feel they were coerced into being domestic servants, groomed to stay and with minimal pay of £3 a month. The BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme interviewed the reporter who exposed the story, Antonia Cundy, who said she had interviewed dozens of people in the organisation between 1977-2020, and found they shared the same story. In response, Kathryn Plazek from Opus Dei said it was extremely unfortunate and mistakes were made. Nobody should be forced to do anything against their will or coerced into a vocation. The organisation still runs a hospitality school, but the advert to join is transparent and people do receive vocational qualifications. Opus Dei was “very interested in correcting any errors that may have been made” and had a grievance procedure for people to claim. Opus Dei has been criticised for secrecy and exercising control over the spiritual practices and behaviour of its members, most of whom are lay and lead normal working lives. But the organisation has been supported by successive Popes, including Pope Francis.

Rector of Liverpool Parish Church leaves CofE in protest at institutional homophobia and misogyny

The Rev Crispin Pailing, rector of Liverpool Parish Church, has announced that he is leaving the Church of England because he cannot “in good conscience continue to have a representative role in an organisation which perpetuates bias and discrimination against sections of society on the grounds of sexuality, race and  gender”. In a statement release don Twitter / X, he said: “In the last few years, I have seen the institutional validation of homophobic and misogynistic views in the church and I cannot endorse this”. He continues that the failure of safeguarding is also an abuse. While he is critical of the institution, he also praises his own church for supporting the dignity of all people, and thanks the past and present bishops of Liverpool who have “both taken a public stance against discrimination”. He says he is leaving “one of the most significant civic roles in the country” to take up a role in the charity sector in the summer, and he and his family will stay in Liverpool where they have put down roots.

Archdeacon of Liverpool “anti-whiteness” support

 A tweet by the Archdeacon of Liverpool, Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, on her support for “anti-whiteness”, has provoked a strong social media comment and a story in The Telegraph. Dr Threlfall-Holmes, who was appointed as archdeacon in June 2023, spoke after attending a racial justice conference where she realised that “whiteness is to race what patriarchy is to gender”. She is quoted in The Telegraph saying the conference debate was on ‘whiteness’ as a way of viewing the world, where being white is seen as normal’and everything else is considered different or lesser. But she understood “that this is not a definition that is widely shared as yet outside of academic circles, and regret that Twitter [X] was perhaps not the best place for a nuanced argument.” Her comments came soon after an advert from the diocese of Birmingham for a “deconstructing whiteness officer”.

Protests mount at St John’s College decision to disband mixed gender choir

Protests are mounting at the decision of St John’s College, Cambridge, to disband its mixed gender choir, St John’s Voices. It said it wanted to provide a broader range of music reflecting students who have different preferences and experiences to previous generations. It will instead offer music lessons to any student, including for jazz and pop.  The decision was taken as the college is between Deans, with Dr Mark Oakley having left in November and the new Dean, Dr Victoria Johnson, starting after Easter. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has signed a petition in protest saying the plan is “regressive”.

Baptist Union Council votes to ban ministers from same sex marriage

The Baptist Union Council has voted not to allow ministers to be in same sex marriages, but made it clear that sexual orientation is no bar to accreditation and that it upholds the freedom of local churches to appoint ministers according to their governing documents. Each Baptist church is self-governing, but the Council decides on strategic direction and the Assembly votes on  key issues. The decision follows a period of consultation among 52 per cent of churches. The Council’s statement acknowledges there is a range of views among the Baptist Union and “laments” pain experienced and possible impact of the decision. The vote was 49:27 in favour of a ban.

Archbishop lends his support to The Big Help Out 2024

The Archbishop of Canterbury is leading calls for people to support The Big Help Out on the weekend of 7 – 9 June. The event has grown in popularity and last year involved more than 7 million people over the long weekend of the King’s coronation. Justin Welby repeated his support while speaking at an Itfar including many faith and commmunity leaders, working with disadvantaged communities, at the Eritrean Muslim Community Association in London on Friday. He backed initiatives already underway and said volunteering changes the lives of those who are helped, as well as the volunteers, through practical support such as providing meals, befriending the elderly or giving nappies and baby grows to new parents. He hoped that people would experience the joy of contributing to the community, and witnessing the transformational impact it can have in the world. Further details from the Together Coalition here. Press release with further comments here.

Chart topping singing nuns of Arundel release a new single

The Poor Clare Sisters of Arundel, singing nuns whose first album shot to number five in the UK albums chart, have brought out a new single My Peace I Give You.   Classic FM explains this is part of their second album Light for the World which is due out in May and is based on St Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creation, across seven songs in calm, contemplative tone. Described as a heavenly sound, Sister Graça said they long for the music to touch people’s hearts, with one fan saying they didn’t believe in God, but the music took them somewhere that they had never experienced before. Decca Records says the song “invites us into their quiet sanctuary with much needed messages of peace and hope”. The nuns are aged 50 to 96, and the video of their recording shows some sitting and others standing, all wearing headphones. When not singing, they run a guest house, watch films to relax, dance to Bob Marley and tend their garden, and they have vowed that any profits from the album will go to charity. Their album was mixed at Abbey Road studios and they are pictured outside, walking across the road on the zebra crossing, like the stars before them.

75-year-old retired priest walking 200km for CAFOD’s big walk

Monsignor Canon Vincent Harvey, a retired Catholic priest from Fareham, has set out on CAFOD’s Big Lent Walk, a sponsored 200km to raise money for combating global poverty. His local paper, The Daily Echo, said he is making the effort to walk despite suffering from arthritis in his knees and hips and quotes him saying “Each step is an effort, and the rain doesn’t help, but I keep on going!! Keep up the giving, please!”. He has already raised more than his £750 target. The CAFOD Big Lent Walk is taking place in 40 countries and aims to help people who have faced displacement, loss, and chronic food shortages, made worse by climate crises and global conflicts. 

Hundreds attend colourful Holi festivities in Britain

Hundreds of people celebrated the Hindu festival of Holi in British towns and cities this weekend. The BBC reports large ceremonies in Leicester, where 800 people assembled for a ritual where coloured powders are thrown into the air,  followed by the lighting of a bonfire in the evening. Among the other ceremonies reported were those in Exeter and Chelmsford, which attracted 1,000 people in Central Park. The festival celebrates the deities of Krishna and Radha, signifies good over evil and heralds Spring. Factsheet on Holi is here

“Iceland” controversy as it replaces the cross on hot cross buns with a tick

The supermarket “Iceland” has removed the cross on a range of hot cross buns and replaced it with a tick. It says one fifth of its customers wanted the change, but it is offering traditional buns with a cross also. The move has angered people on social media, including former Tory MP Lee Anderson, who said it was “ridiculous virtue signalling”. Daily Express story here


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