Religion news 4 April 2022

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Image credit: Dan Forshaw

Putin “will have to answer to God” for obscene violence in Ukraine

Images of people with their hands tied behind their back, shot in the back of the head and lying dead in the districts of Bucha and Irpin around Kyiv, have shocked and appalled the world. Mass graves have also been discovered and Ukrainian soldiers and investigators are collecting evidence to bring charges of war crimes.  Journalists documented the atrocities in graphic words, pictures and film this weekend.  The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby described the killing as obscene: “With war comes the loss of our humanity – and that is laid bare for the world to see in Bucha. May those leading the war of aggression against the people of Ukraine rediscover their humanity, and stop this obscene killing of God’s precious children”. The former Archbishop of York,  Dr John Sentamu, told a rally that Putin will have to answer to God for the absolute viciousness he is unleashing on the Ukrainian people.

Landmark churches lit in blue and yellow for Ukraine

Westminster Abbey and Methodist Central Hall Westminster were lit in blue and yellow on Saturday night to express solidarity with Ukraine. Churches across the UK joined in a shared event #WePrayForUkraine across the weekend. Clerics were among those demonstrating in support outside the Ukraine embassy in London and their prayers were summed up by the Bishop of Reading Olivia Graham: “People of God, today #weprayforukraine For an end to war, violence and suffering. For light to shine in the darkness. For the power of love to prevail. And for every loved child of God who is caught up in this terrible war”.

Catholic church leader warns Odesa will mount ferocious resistance to assaults

The Ukraine port of Odesa has come under Russian attack, with missiles fired at an oil container sending black plumes of smoke into the sky. Bishop Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk , a Catholic bishop there, had forecast “ferocious resistance” if Russian forces launched a frontal assault. Speaking ten days ago in an interview with the Catholic News Service, he said every street and square would resist,. The aid charity Caritas has been providing humanitarian needs in the city, while five Catholic parishes have been distributing food and medicine and church basements have been used as bomb shelters.

Sikh mercy mission to safeguard scriptures from threatened Odesa

Sikh scriptures and prayer books have been rescued from the gurdwara in Odesa as the city prepares for an expected Russian onslaught. Simran Singh Stuelpnagel, the global affairs adviser of Sikh Dharma International, drove to the city with Ukrainian help and brought the scriptures safely to the Sikh museum in Derby – they will be returned when fighting ends. For Sikhs, the scriptures are regarded as the perpetual guru, continuing to offer teaching to the faithful.

Pope Francis may visit Kyiv

Pope Francis is considering visiting the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, following an invitation from President Zelensky issued last month. He held out the prospect of a visit in answer to a reporter’s question on the plane back from his visit to Malta, saying “it is on the table”.  While there, he delivered a speech appearing to lay the blame at Putin’s door: “Once again, some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts, whereas ordinary people sense the need to build a future that will either be shared, or not be at all”,  he said. Guardian report here

Demands to expel the Russian orthodox church from the World Council of Churches

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams says there is a strong case for expelling the Russian Orthodox Church from the World Council of Churches. He told the Sunday progrmame on BBC Radio 4 that no one in the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, not even its leader Patriarch Kirill,  had condemned the violence or even asked for a ceasefire. He knew other Orthodox leaders were ashamed of the Russian church’s stand and he himself said the leadership was betraying everything precious in the tradition’s history. If he were to speak directly to Patriarch Kirill he would tell him it was his responsibility to condemn the killing of people who were members of his own flock. Peter Prove, from the World Council of Churches, told the programme that it was trying to arrange a face to face meeting with Patriarch Kirill but warned that any process of expulsion would take a long time. Listen again to the interviews here

The Jewish roots of President Zelensky explained

Ukrainian journalist, Natalie Gryvnyak, has charted the story of President Zelensky, who is Jewish from Russian speaking eastern Ukraine, but whose religious roots have never been the central feature of his office. She explains how he is associated with the city of Dnipro, which had the largest Jewish community in the world and where Jewish background never mattered. The article was first published in Jewish Quarterly and republished in the Jewish News

Other news

The National Zakat Foundation says across the UK more Muslims than ever are in desperate need of support. The cost of living crisis with energy prices rising and more price hikes on the way, has led them to launch an appeal during Ramadan which started this weekend.

The Catholic Bishops conference has announced revised national guidelines which will allow for sacramental access at crime scenes where operationally possible, following a review after the murder of MP Sir David Amess.  As he lay dying, a priest was forbidden from giving him the last rites by local officers in order to preserve the crime scene. The Conference says the review group of Catholics and police officers  has developed new guidance for the College of Policing, balancing medical and investigative priorities, with empathy for the victim, their family and any religious needs.

Parliament has voted to keep at-home abortions, which were introduced during the lockdowns. This is a rejection of a government intention to scrap the system at the end of August, which the “i” reports came after a targeted campaign by right to life campaigners, using churches to spread their message. In future women will be allowed to take two abortion pills at home without attending a clinic. MPs voted by 215 to 188 in favour of the measure.

Professor David Miller, who was sacked by the University of Bristol after a lecture on Islamophobia and statements regarding Israel, Zionism and Jews, has lost his appeal and now plans to take his case to an employment tribunal. Jewish students had complained about his comments and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism said he had brought shame on the university. The university said he did not meet the standards of behaviour expected from staff. But 40,000 people signed a petition in his support and their website carried his statement saying he had been the subject of a pernicious witch hunt.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising has revealed that he has blessed couples in same-sex relationships and has called for a change in Catholic teaching on homosexuality. In an interview with the German magazine Stern, he said the Catechism of the Catholic Church was “not set in stone” and the faithful therefore had a right to question what it taught. The interview led to a call from Bishop Joseph Strickland in east Texas that the cardinal should be honest and resign


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