01 August 2019, The Tablet

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

The Bishop of Portsmouth has asked the prime minister for better support for refugees

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

Bishop Philip Egan, pictured at his episcopal ordination in 2012

The Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, has signed a letter from faith leaders to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, calling for better support for refugees. The letter, which was organised by the charity Safe Passage, says that providing support for refugees offers a “lifesaving” alternative to schemes run by smugglers and people traffickers. “[The UK] should be proud to give people a route to safety that stops them risking their lives in overcrowded dinghies, or in wheel arches, or in refrigerated lorries,” it reads. The letter was signed by 120 faith leaders, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord (Rowan) Williams, and leaders of the Muslim and Jewish communities. Bishop Egan was the only Catholic signatory, but it is still possible to add signatures online.

The Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, used his homily for the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes to describe abortion, gay marriage and attacks on human identity as decided by God as part of “all that ails our society with lasting, indeed, everlasting consequences”. The bishop also said that environmental activists “appear to see not human sin but rather humanity itself as a pollutant. Holiness and moral renewal should come before renewal of the planet”, he said.

Tom Burns, the former Bishop of Menevia, celebrated his retirement last week with a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Cathedral Church of Saint Joseph, Swansea. The Archbishop of Cardiff, George Stack, will take over as the Apostolic Administrator of the Menevia Diocese until his successor is appointed. In the handover of authority Bishop Burns’ coat of arms was removed from the cathedral and the bishop vacated his throne for Archbishop Stack, who told the congregation that he valued his colleague’s advice and counsel, and that the archdiocese would continue to benefit from his presence and his involvement in its life and work.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has reassured the Scottish Bishops’ Conference that the Scottish National Party will not deselect or discipline candidates because of their religious beliefs. As The Tablet reported last week, the Bishops’ Conference wrote a letter to the First Minister complaining that Dr Lisa Cameron, SNP MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, had been threatened with deselection by local party members after she voted against the introduction of abortion in Northern Ireland. In her response, Ms Sturgeon said that she was “proud of our diversity” and confirmed that no one was ever asked about their religious views when coming forward as a potential candidate, or prevented from standing because of their religious or spiritual beliefs.

A pro-life society at Nottingham University has been granted affiliation with its students’ union following a protracted battle over freedom of speech on university campuses. Nottingham Students’ Union rejected Nottingham Students for Life’s application for affiliation on the grounds that its values did not align with those of the Union. The pro-life group successfully challenged that decision, arguing that the Union had a legal commitment to represent all students whether or not they agreed with their beliefs. Laurence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International in London, a Christian advocacy organisation that supported the challenge, said: “Of all places, university is where students should be free to debate and explore ideas, even those with which they might disagree.”

A community of cloistered Benedictine nuns at Malling Abbey in Kent has opposed plans by a housing developer to build 65 new houses next to its grounds. David Green, the vicar of St Mary’s Church in West Malling, told the Daily Mail that the Anglican community needed a peaceful and quiet environment for prayer, adding that the grounds were also home to a shelter run by The Pilsdon Community, a Christian charity that provides refuge for the homeless, recovering addicts and people fleeing domestic violence. Forty per cent of the proposed development, by Bellway, will include affordable housing. A public inquiry will start on August 20.

This year, 9,000 pilgrims took part in the annual Croagh Patrick pilgrimage, climbing the 764-metre mountain in Co Mayo, where Masses and Confessions were heard at the summit. In his homily for Reek Sunday, as the last Sunday in July is known, Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam said there was a deep anxiety in Irish society about “family life, drugs and alcohol abuse”. The 73-year-old archbishop, who made the arduous trek to the summit to lead the services, said parents felt concerned about raising their children in a society where the internet and social media contradict their voices and their authority. He welcomed plans to make the mountain path safer for the 100,000 pilgrims who make the trek each year.

The Irish aid agency Trócaire has condemned the recent demolitions of Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities in the village of Sur Baher (pictured) describing them as “illegal under international law”. Trócaire’s CEO, Caoimhe de Barra, said that the demolitions undermined the human rights of Palestinians and jeopardised hopes of long-term peace and a two-state solution. She said that the move was “yet another example of the need for Ireland and the EU to take a stand against Israeli authorities’ flagrant disregard of international law”. Trócaire has called on the Irish government to support the Occupied Territories Bill, which would ban the sale of imported Israeli goods from the Occupied Territories. If passed, the bill would be the first of its kind in the world.

Both of this year’s winners at Wimbledon, Simona Halep and Novak Djokovic, are committed Orthodox Christians who have received prestigious awards from their respective churches, according to the Austrian news service Pro Oriente. An article last week revealed that 27-year-old Romanian Halep recently received awarded the highest award that a lay person can receive from the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Romanian Patriarchal Cross. Serbian Novak Djokovic, the no. 1 tennis player in the world, meanwhile received the Serbian Orthodox Church’s Order of St Sava First Class in 2011 for his work in promoting religious and social initiatives.

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