Religion news 4 June 2024

Image credit: Ben White, Freerange stock

Secular schools must allow children to pray, says children’s commissioner

Secular schools should be as concerned with the pastoral needs of children as faith schools — including providing them with spaces for prayer, according to the children’s commissioner,  Dame Rachel de Souza. She believes there has been a misunderstanding expressed in Britain that the education system in non-faith schools is akin to the French secular one, but said this is not the case. Her remarks at the end of a lecture in London, followed a court case when the Michaela School in London was supported for refusing to allow prayer rituals. Asked whether more secular schools should give children the space to pray, she answered: “That’s an easy one. Yes.”  Read Catherine Pepinster’s report of the lecture here.

Pope says migration is a sign of the times

In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis has urged people to see migration as a sign of the times and as a symbol of the Church’s pilgrimage throughout history. He writes: “See in the migrants of our time, as in those of every age, a living image of God’s people on their way to the eternal homeland”. The World Day is a call to believers to show support and closeness to the millions of men, women and children who are forced to leave their homes. The current global estimate is that there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, which equates to 3.6 per cent of the global population, and that number continues to rise.

Religious minorities fear outcome of India election, with result expected today

The result of the  Indian general election is expected today and The Independent reports on the fears among many of the country’s Muslims of their “growing anxiety and fear of persecution”, should Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party be returned to power as predicted . India is the world’s most populous country and 969 million citizens were eligible to vote in a six week process which ended last weekend.  The high unemployment rate and price rises, especially of food and fuel, were at the top of many voters’ minds, but other concerns surrounded Modi’s decade in power, which has seen a reported surge in hate speech against religious minorities, attacks on their places of learning and worship, and mob lynchings. Opposition leaders accused the BJP government of trying to silence rivals and deny them a level playing field – which the BJP denies. The election was also overshadowed by reports of politicians and party workers tampering with voting machines and Muslims being denied the right to vote in some areas. The Christian Post reports that according to the New Delhi-based United Christian Forum, 2021 witnessed at least 486 incidents of violence against Christians, making it the most violent year for this community in the history of India. This pattern continued into 2022, and by 2023, the frequency of these incidents had reportedly escalated even further, significantly exceeding 600.

Pakistan bishop pleads for authorities to protect religious minorities

A leading Catholic bishop in Pakistan is calling on world powers to come together and demand that the Pakistan authorities act to protect the lives of persecuted minority faith groups who he claims are under increasing threat from misuse of the country’s notorious blasphemy laws. Bishop Samson Shukardin, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, said that unless laws are passed making it an offence to fabricate allegations of blasphemy, Christians and other beleaguered minorities will never feel safe in their own country. The bishop’s comments follow the case of Nazir Gill Masih, a Christian man in his 70s, who died in hospital 10 days after being attacked by a mob acting on dubious blasphemy claims made against him. Bishop Shukardin said such incidents would only increase unless the Pakistan authorities clamp down on people falsifying accusations and stop mobs taking matters into their own hands by terrorising victims, their families and neighbours. He added that only a minority of Muslims in Pakistan were antagonistic to minorities, adding that the volume of YouTube and television statements condemning the May 25-26 anti-Christian attacks in Sargodha was unprecedented.

South African bishops warn politicians not to incite violence

South Africa’s Catholic bishops have urged all politicians to accept the national election results announced on Sunday and to avoid behaviour leading to violence. The elections saw the ruling African National Congress (ANC) lose its outright majority, which it has retained since the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. Scores of newly-formed parties contested the election as worsening economic inequality undermined the ANC’s support. In a statement, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference called on all “parties to avoid utterances and behaviour that could lead to acts of violence, destruction, and loss of life” and turn their attention to helping the country. Tablet report here

Warning that Jews are poised to leave Europe on masse

The chairman of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin has told the organisation’s annual conference that “Europe’s Jews are in ‘emergency mode’ and are poised to leave the continent “en masse” The Rabbi opened the summit with a warning that “The situation facing our communities is the worst it has been since World War Two.” He said Israel “can expect many thousands of Jews to arrive.  Be ready to provide housing, jobs and education for a large Aliyah”. The conference which is taking place in Amsterdam is entitled “Fighting back for our future”. It includes a session on providing solutions for Jewish and Zionist students and a workshop on practical self-defence. One session on the safety of Jewish institutions was closed to the media, such is the tension around the topic, according to the Jewish Chronicle. During the conference, a set of recommendations will be established and distributed to every government in Europe. The conference ends later today.

Pilgrimage companies in Jerusalem on brink of collapse

The Catholic Herald has a special report on the plight of the many pilgrimage companies in Jerusalem who are on the brink of collapse due to the 7 October attack by Hamas and the subsequent war in Gaza. Many Christians living in East Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories, rely on pilgrims for their livelihoods. Fabien Safar, the head of Terra Dei, says the company had to end all its contracts with suppliers, hotels and restaurants on 7 October: “If you take an average person from the US, they won’t come here,” says Fabien, adding that there “are almost no Catholics coming”. He added, “We feel like we have been abandoned.”  In 2019, an estimated 4.5 million tourists visited Israel. However, since then, tourist numbers have plummeted. While Jerusalem still sees a small trickle of tourists, in Nazareth this is not the case because of its proximity to the north of Israel where fighting is ongoing.  Yousef owns the closest gift shop to the Church of the Nativity – a spot that would have typically seen hundreds queue for hours each day to visit the birthplace of Christ. “There has been nothing for nearly eight months now. Every day it costs me 40 to 50 dollars to run the shop: for light, electricity, rent. There’s no work, no life”. Yousef explains that he keeps the shop open in order to see people and to keep up his own spirits – but is unsure how long he can go on like this.

Justin Welby emphasises work with indigenous people on tour of central America

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is in Guatemala on a tour of central American countries. He  took part in a service in Santa Cruz, Balanya, which incorporated one of the indigenous languages spoken in the country. An ordinand in the Anglican Church, Cristobal Armando, said it was a “great blessing” to have the Archbishop visiting the church and giving strength to the indigenous priests. The Archbishop told Premier Christian News that the Anglican Communion  is doing a lot with indigenous people, against a history of colonisers who had often treated indigenous peoples as sub-human. At a service on Sunday at the Anglican cathedral in Guatemala City, the Archbishop spoke about the fortitude and resilience required of Christians. His tour will also take in El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica.


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