Religion news 26 January

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Church leaders join growing clamour for schools to re-open for all children as soon as possible

In her last speech as the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield will argue today that children should be at the heart of the country’s efforts to rebuild following the Covid crisis. In an open letter to the government, she appeals for a clear roadmap for the reopening of schools to all pupils. The impact on children’s futures and mental health is being highlighted in a widespread vocal campaign. The Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, tweeted: “We cannot delay the re-opening of schools beyond Easter – it would be a catastrophe for a generation, especially the poorest. Vaccination of staff, testing of children, prioritisation of regions, ages and demographics – everything must be done to re-start”. Baptist minister and founder of Oasis, the Rev Steve Chalke,  is supporting a petition to vaccinate teachers: “Let’s get schools open for all children and students as soon as possible… Support the growing call to vaccinate all school staff to get schools open and end educational poverty! “

Multi million pound initiative for faith groups to persuade people to be vaccinated

The government is giving more than £2 million to faith-based charities to counter false information about the Covid-19 vaccine which is preventing some people from taking it up.  It is part of a £23million drive to support people at risk and boost take up of the vaccine. Faith leaders have expressed concern that social media is spreading wrong information on the vaccines, targeting people on the basis of faith. This includes that vaccines are made of animal products which would prevent certain faith groups from touching the products, that they contain tracking devices, or that material from aborted foetuses is included, which would be against some religious principles. Two charities, Near Neighbours, connected to the Church of England, and Strengthening Faith Institutions will join councils in the effort to help dispel myths through providing information and advice.

Survey to check impact of Covid-19 on mosques

The Muslim Council of Britain, the Muslim Council of Wales and the Muslim Council of Scotland, have jointly launched a survey to assess the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on mosques. It will assess attendance, the provision of digital worship and services, financial impact including furloughing of staff and give an opportunity for mosques to outline their challenges during the pandemic. The research is being led by Dr Azim Ahmed at Cardiff university.

Women faith leaders engage with government’s faith adviser

A new women’s interfaith group, the Women’s Faith Forum, has been set up to ensure women’s voices are heard, as the government engages with faith groups where leadership is predominantly male.  The chair, Laura Marks, said it was important to hear and understand women who make a vital contribution to the faith communities. They have already held a meeting with the government’s faith adviser Colin Bloom to offer opinions on how government can better engage with faith groups, which he said had been “enormously insightful.”

Inquiry into radicalisation inside prisons

The government’s terrorism “watchdog” Jonathan Hall QC, has announced an inquiry into the way prisons deal with convicted terrorists. It follows increasing concern that prisoners are being radicalised while inside, as they come under the influence of “high status” terrorist prisoners who are not prosecuted for radicalising others. This has resulted in more terrorist attacks against prison officers inside jails as well as attacks on the public from people who have been radicalsed while serving a sentence.

Pope prays for Nigerian homeless man found dead after a freezing night in Rome

Pope Francis paused on Sunday to pray for “Edwin”, a homeless man from Nigeria, who died from the cold a few metres from St. Peter’s Square. The Pope acknowledged that Edwin was abandoned by everyone and he reminded journalists of their task to “give first-hand witness to the truth”.