Religion news 4 August

Image credit: Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College CCLicense

John Hume – a Christian peacemaker

John Hume, whose Roman Catholic roots propelled him to seek peace in Northern Ireland, has died aged 83. He is regarded as the architect of the Good Friday peace agreement which brought an end to 30 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. As a young man in Derry, he started training for the priesthood, but left to become a teacher, active as a civil rights campaigner and in the credit union movement. A founder member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, he was elected to the Westminster and European parliaments. But it was his impact on the peace process which has led him to be called a titan and political giant, awarded the Nobel peace prize, Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award. He was also made Knight Commander of the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great. The Bishop of Derry, the Rt Revd Donal McKeown, said: “John had spent a few years in seminary discerning whether he had a vocation to become a priest. In many ways he always retained that strong Christian sense of being called to be a peacemaker. Because he generated hope for his local community he will be remembered as one of the great local and world figures of his generation.”

Benedict XVI health scare

Former Pope Benedict XVI is at the centre of a health scare with his biographer describing him as seriously ill. The German newspaper  Passauer Neue Presse quoted his biographer Peter Seewald, saying he was suffering from shingles which can cause acute pain in the elderly, and that his voice was barely audible. But the Vatican has since denied the report saying Benedict’s condition was “not particularly worrying”. He is 93 and has been suffering from ill health for some time. He was the first Pope for 600 years to resign from office in 2013 citing ill health and frailty, and now resides in a former convent in the Vatican gardens.  In June, he visited his brother Georg Ratzinger, shortly before he died aged 96, in their native Bavaria.  

Trans Baptist pastor told to quit church

A Baptist pastor in Canada, who came out as a trans woman in a zoom sermon, has lost her job after the congregation voted her out. Junia Joplin’s sermon went viral on youtube,  viewed around 28,000 times. In it she said: “I want to proclaim to my transgender siblings that I believe in a God who knows your name, even if that name hasn’t been chosen yet. I believe in a God who calls you a beloved daughter even if your parents insist you’ll always be their son.” In an interview with Vox News, she said she had received support from the congregation, but she was removed from office by 58-53 votes. The leadership at Lorne Park church, Toronto, said in a statement: “After a month of prayerful discernment and discussions between June and the congregation, it was determined, for theological reasons, that it is not in God’s will that June remain as our pastor. We wish June God’s grace and peace as she departs from us.” Six of the church’s eight executive council members have resigned and two members of the pastoral team.

American congregations falling away online

The American polling company BARNA says church ministers are seeing less engagement online as compared to people attending church in person. In a recent survey, half of those who replied said fewer people were attending online. Barna polls for organisations and about subjects which are at the interface of faith and culture. During the pandemic, it has conducted weekly polls among clergy.  Nona Jones, head of faith-based partnerships at Facebook, said churches should increase digital engagement and use social media to help people mature in their faith, moving away from giving content to engaging in community conversations.

Jewish solidarity with Roma communities

Edwin Shuker, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has expressed solidarity with the Roma, gypsy and traveller communities on the Holocaust Day for Roma, 2 August. In a statement posted on social media he said the hatred of Romany did not end with the Nazis and the memorial day was a reminder to practice solidarity. “We must never forget what hatred can lead to.”

German abbess faces court for sheltering refugees

A Vatican cardinal, Michael Czerny, has backed a German abbess who is being prosecuted for sheltering refugees. Mother Mechthild Thurmer, head of an Abbey in Kirchschletten, in Bavaria, is facing court proceedings after giving refuge on 30 occasions to women seeking asylum and then refusing to pay the fine. She says she acted out of Christian spirit: “to give concrete help to a person in need can’t be a crime”. The Cardinal said her action was in a long tradition of Christian witness adding “God bless her!”.