Religion news 29 September

Image credit: Danny Kruger

Pope Francis “refuses to meet Pompeo”

There are reports that Pope Francis has declined to meet the American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is visiting the Vatican this week. La Repubblica  says the reason given was that it might be seen to influence the forthcoming US election. But there is widespread comment that it is because of a dispute over the Vatican’s decision to renew a deal with China on the appointment of bishops. Pompeo had criticised this in the American Catholic magazine ‘First Things’, saying the Vatican should take a stand against China’s record on human rights. Pompeo is expected to meet a Cardinal and Archbishop instead.

Proposal for “social covenant” between faith leaders and the state

The evangelical Christian MP Danny Kruger is proposing an innovative form of social covenant to create a new deal between faith communities and the state. In a report commissioned by the Prime Minister, he says all faith groups have charity at their heart and offer an enormous resource, with motivation and commitment that often exceeds that of paid professionals. He suggests contracts between faith and state have not occurred because public servants frequently assume that religious beliefs belong in the private sphere. The Government,  he says, “should invite the country’s faith leaders to make a grand offer of help on behalf of their communities, in exchange for a reciprocal commitment from the state”. The report also suggests a “volunteer passport” matching organisations to volunteers; service opportunities for young people, in a structured scheme; and a national Neighbour Day, honouring neighbourliness such as that seen during the pandemic. The Prime Minister says work is already underway to find a new framework for supporting civil society.

Archbishop in America: do not surround love for refugees with barbed wire

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby used a sermon in Washington Cathedral to say that Christians must love refugees and not surround this love with barbed wire. Marking the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he drew attention to the 75 million people fleeing their homes this year and appealed for them to be treated with grace. He said the Kingdom of God is seen in those caring for the outcast and the marginalised and the USA was admired throughout the world for the words on the Statue of Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

The head of the Catholic church in England and Wales Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has called for more help for refugees trying to reach the UK. He said safe and legal routes into the UK should be opened for people risking their lives crossing the channel. 

The Pope addressing the faithful at the Vatican, said he is praying for migrants and refugees and for all those who assist them.

French Jews protected by 7,000 police during Yom Kippur

More than 7,000 police are protecting Jewish people during Yom Kippur in France, after a double stabbing in Paris. The man arrested was allegedly protesting at the re-publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Five years ago, 12 employees were killed after the cartoons were first published and this was followed by an attack on a Jewish grocery store. This weekend, the French interior minister promised to protect the country’s Jewish community from extremists. There are an estimated 700,000 Jews in France – the largest number in any European country.

Growing secularisation in Iran

Academics at Utrecht and Tilburg universities have published a survey suggesting dramatic changes in Iranian religiosity, with an increase in secularisation and a diversity of faiths and beliefs. They collected data online and, from a sample of 40,000,  found that just 40% of the population said they were Muslim, compared to 99.5% in the 2016 census.  Only 32% explicitly identified as Shia, 9% said they were atheists, and 7% owned “spirituality”. 78% believed in God. The researchers suggest the internet and the Iranian diaspora has generated new forms of religious experience which is leading to fundamental change. The research was conducted by Pooyan Tamimi Arab (Utrecht) and Ammar Maleki (Tilburg) and summarised in The Conversation.

Israel’s deals with UAE and Bahrain criticised for undermining Islam

Ali Al-Qaradaghi, the Secretary-General of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, says the deals between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel are a campaign to undermine Islam and monopolise Islamic countries. The Andalou news agency reported that in a Facebook post at the weekend, he said there were “many tools being used to uproot Islam and reoccupy Muslims intellectually, socially, economically and politically”. And he suggested this included creating a new religion under the beautiful name of ‘Abraham’s faith’, which he said, undermined their foundation.