Religion news 4 March

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Swept into poverty after universal credit (Image: Church Action on Poverty)

Budget doesn’t go far enough to help people in poverty

The chancellor’s budget decision to extend the £20 universal credit for six months has been criticised by the Bishop of Birmingham, for not going far enough. David Urquhart told the House of Lords that the chancellor had missed the chance to give certainty to people who rely on it, by not making it permanent. Similar disquiet has been expressed by the Reset the Debt campaign, backed by four national churches. It says the government should address the household debt crisis made worse by the pandemic. The campaign has asked that a jubilee fund be set up to support low-income families who have been forced to borrow because of the lockdown. Reset the Debt is supported by the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, Church Action on Poverty, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church.

Pope’s visit to Iraq is ‘an act of love’

The Pope’s visit this week to Iraq is the riskiest trip that he has taken, because of the impact of Covid and the security situation, a Religion Media Centre briefing was told. Christopher Lamb, Vatican correspondent for The Tablet, said he believed Pope Francis thought that the riskiest trips were sometimes the ones with the greatest benefit. The Pope’s itinerary includes visits to the beleaguered Christian population in the north, politicians in Baghdad and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shia religious leader of Iraq, in the south. Professor Sajjad Rizvi, director of the Centre for the Study of Islam at Exeter University, said the Baghdad government hoped to promote the idea that Iraq was still a place of multiple communities. Najaf is seen by the Muslim community in Iraq as their equivalent of the Vatican, so for them this is a kind of meeting of equals. Read the full report of the RMC briefing here.

US Catholic Bishops advise against the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is discouraging Catholics from taking the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, saying it uses cells with a distant link to abortion in its development. It says: “If one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.” America, the Jesuit Review, quotes Anthony Egan, a Jesuit priest and lecturer in theology in South Africa, saying such advice is unhelpful when people are dying and facing all kinds of crisis. In his country, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the only available option.

Islamic scholars say Covid-19 vaccination during Ramadan is valid

The Mosques and Imam National Advisory Board (Minab) says there is a valid opinion to permit having the Covid-19 vaccine during Ramadan, which starts on 12 April. Scholars are divided, but Minab says those who believe that a vaccine breaks the fast also say that taking a vaccine should not be delayed as this may cause harm to a person or others with whom they are in contact.

Haredi community in London praised for observing lockdown rules

Stamford Hill’s Haredi community has been praised by police for complying with Covid restrictions over Purim festival, Jewish News reports. Jim Melton, the head of Hackney’s neighbourhood policing, said the festival passed without incident and there was a significant reduction in people out celebrating. This followed criticism of several large weddings held in breach of Covid restrictions in the area last year.

Capitol Hill on alert as QAnon fuels fantasy that Trump will resume power today

In Washington, police are increasing security amid fears that QAnon supporters and conspiracy theorists will descend again on Capitol Hill, believing that Donald Trump will regain power on Thursday 4 March, the original inauguration day for presidents before 1933. QAnon is a movement based on the theory that the government is run by a deep state of elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles, whom Trump was due to defeat. Since he lost the election, some QAnon adherents have recanted, others have reversioned their ideas.

Sylvia Plath fan allowed to be buried near her favoured author

The Church of England judge who has given permission for a woman from Oxfordshire to be buried in the same West Yorkshire churchyard as the poet Sylvia Plath says he is confident the decision won’t spark a flood of similar requests. The 44-year-old woman, who has not been named, applied for the permission after feeling “profoundly spiritual” on a visit to St Thomas the Apostle Church in the village of Heptonstall. The woman describes herself as being a “committed and confirmed Christian” as well as being a fan of Plath, author of The Bell Jar, and former wife of the late poet laureate, Ted Hughes. The vicar, the Rev Karen Marshall, said there was a lot of interest in Plath, but to her knowledge, “no one to date has cited their reason for wishing to be buried here as being on account of literary associations”. One feature of this case, which may be less true of other graveyards with famous occupants, is what was described as the “superabundance of space for burials”.





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