Religion news 5 April 2024

Image credit: Creator: Daria Jenni, Caritas Jerusalem

Pope leads moment of silence for aid workers killed in Gaza

Pope Francis led thousands of people in a moment of silence to pray for the seven aid workers killed by an Israeli strike in Gaza, and expressed deep sorrow for their families.  He appealed once more for an immediate cease-fire, the release of hostages taken by Hamas and for humanitarian aid to reach the people of Gaza.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, made the same demands and said aid workers can never be a target in war: “The killing of seven @WCKitchen workers by an Israeli strike is another appalling breach of international humanitarian law in this war. I pray for the families and colleagues of those who were killed this week, and all those who have been killed in the last six months.”

Board of Deputies says Tory MP’s comments on pro-Israel extremist Lords are disgraceful

The Conservative party is investigating former minister Alan Duncan after he said pro-Israel “extremists” within the party, who did not condemn settlers on the West Bank and thus defied international law, should be kicked out. In an interview with LBC, he said Lord Polak should be removed from the Lords for “exercising the interests of another country”, lobbying for Israel through the Conservative Friends of Israel group, where he was director for 26 years; Lord Eric Pickles should be removed for the same reason; and Tom Tugendhat, security minister, should be sacked for condemning the UN security council when it criticised Israel settlements in Palestinian territories. Later in an interview with Times Radio, he said other Tories who didn’t believe the settlements are illegal – Michael Gove, Oliver Dowden, Suella Braverman, Robert Jenrick and Priti Patel – should be called out as extremists. Braverman, the former home secretary, who argued this week that Israel was not impeding aid getting into Gaza, should lose the Tory whip. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has described his comments as disgraceful, accusing him of “effectively accusing two Conservative Peers, one of whom is Jewish, of dual loyalties”. It said the Conservative Party should consider whether his position as a Party member is tenable.

“Israelism” film challenging US Jewish unconditional love of Israel attracts capacity audiences in London

Two screenings of the controversial American-made film Israelism, which charts the way young American Jews challenge the community’s unconditional love of Israel, attracted audiences of 500 each time, at the Genesis Cinema in Mile End. Lee Harpin, the Jewish News’ political editor, reports that a panel chaired by Guardian commentator Owen Jones, included Emily Hilton, founder of the organisation “Na’amod” which put on the screenings. She campaigns to “de-centre Israel from Judaism” and the article quotes her saying her upbringing had left her unaware of the “horror and injustice” committed by Israel on the Palestinians and her work now was on how to stop being complicit and caught up in a project that has “caused so much harm to so many people in so many communities”. Erin Axelman, the co-director of the film, said: “American Jews are a very progressive group over all. When we actually see that (the Palestinian issue) we are horrified.” The Jewish News report charts controversial episodes in Na’amod’s history but says events since 7 October, seem to have driven a new wave of young Jews, angered by Israel’s hard military response in Gaza, back towards it. Article is here

Football Association hosts iftar at Wembley

The Football Association welcomed over 300 guests to Wembley stadium this week to mark Ramadan. Guests heard the call to prayer resounding around the ground and enjoyed an iftar programme to break the fast, with fine dining and a panel discussion hosted by journalist Remona Aly. This was one of a series of events organised by the FA in its ongoing recognition and inclusion of different faith communities. Wembley was not the only football stadium to host an iftar event. “Open Iftar 2024”, run by the Ramadan Tent Project, has included iftars at eight football clubs and one rugby club, as well as public spaces such as museums and city halls. The events culminate in an open iftar in Trafalgar Square London on Monday 8 April, with Ramadan ending on Wednesday 10 April.

The “heart-warming” moment a synagogue hosted an iftar

A personal take on an unusual iftar held in a north London synagogue, is expressed in this blog by journalist Liz Harris. She watched Muslims reciting the call to prayer, the adhan, summoning the faithful to worship at sunset and then mingled in conversation with guests, enjoying food to break their Ramadan fast. Among them she found a Uyghur, a Muslim interfaith leader and another working with community tensions among young people. The host, Rabbi Debbie Long Somers, said they’d been bowled over by how many people wanted to come and have this moment of friendship, adding: “It’s been very heart-warming”.

Solar eclipse heralding the end of the world

The forthcoming eclipse of the sun, expected on Monday 8 April, has given rise to talk of the end of the world among some Christians in America. Their arguments are outlined by Christian Headlines here and include theories that the eclipse is a sign to repent, a sign of the end of the world, a sign that Jesus is returning or that America is about to experience judgment of God. An article in The Conversation, by Dr Eric M. Vanden Eykel, associate professor of Religious Studies at Ferrum College in Virginia, seeks to explain all this saying “religious theories surrounding this eclipse are part of a larger pattern of attempts to find meaning in astronomical events that goes back thousands of years”. He points to Biblical verses on the end times, which have triggered predictions rooted in North American evangelicalism. Article is here

The Associated Press reports on the significance of the solar eclipse in world religions here, all agreeing it’s a good time to pray.

The Telegraph reports that six prisoners in a New York prison, including a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist and two practitioners of the Afro Caribbean religion Santeria, have launched a legal battle to watch the solar eclipse.  The prison has ordered a lockdown at the time the eclipse is expected to be seen in northeast USA, but they say it’s a rare natural phenomenon with great religious significance.


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