20 December 2021, The Tablet

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

A patient receives a Covid-19 vaccine booster.
CNS photo/Emily Elconin, Reuters.

The Prime Minister's special envoy for religious freedom, Fiona Bruce MP, has received a petition calling for more action to stop the forced conversion and marriage of Christian and other minority faith women and girls. She was presented with the 3,210-signature petition by Aid to the Church in Need UK head of press and information, John Pontifex, in a meeting at Westminster.  Mrs Bruce said: “In my role, I am committed to action to stop this denial of freedom which impacts the lives of so many young girls in such a fundamental way.” Also present for the petition hand-over were Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh, Scottish National Party MP Dr Lisa Cameron and Morris Johns, secretary to the All-Party Parliamentary Working Group for Pakistan Minorities, who have all campaigned for Christians and other minority faith girls and women.

As Covid cases rose before Christmas Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, encouraged people to take up Covid vaccinations and boosters when offered by the NHS. “The call ‘Get vaccinated! Get boosted!’ is more and more pressing,” he said. “The need is more urgent, especially in London.” He added his voice to that of Pope Francis who reflected that to be vaccinated is “an act of love”.  Cardinal Nichols said: “Here is real protection, for yourself and for others.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that any new covid restrictions would not involve the closure of churches or places of worship. The Scottish Government’s decision to severely limit public worship last year was strongly criticised by the Catholic bishops and other faith groups. Senior scientists, including Sir Harry Burns, who was chair of the Catholic Church’s committee monitoring the covid outbreak, confirmed that there was no hard evidence that churchgoing was implicated in the transmission of the virus, provided precautions were observed.  

Five Irish missionaries have received Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad which were presented by President Michael D. Higgins in December. The Awards, set up by the Irish Government and conferred each year by the President of Ireland, recognise the significant contributions of members of the Irish diaspora. This year’s winners included Sr Orla Treacy of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is principal of Loreto Rumbek in South Sudan, which incorporates a secondary boarding school, a co-educational primary school, and a healthcare facility; and Br Colm O'Connell of the Patrician Brothers, an athletics coach known as ‘the Godfather of Kenyan running’ were among the 2021 winners. Sr Pat Murray of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Fr Kevin O'Hara of the St Patrick's Missionary Society and Sr Louise Horgan, a Good Shepherd Sister in Thailand also received their 2020 Awards, as last year’s ceremony was postponed due to Covid-19. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, paid tribute to these “remarkable people” who he said, “have been a constant beacon for Ireland and the values we hold dear”. There were 107 nominations from the worlds of arts, culture, sports, science and technology for the 2021 awards. 

A diploma in catechetics offered by the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh will be available again in 2022 and will be accessible to Catholics from all over the world.  The diploma was launched last year and managed largely to avoid any limitations imposed by the pandemic.  It covers a wide range of topics using Zoom technology, tutorials and workshop retreats. Sr Anna Marie McGuan of the Sisters of Mercy administers the diploma. She described the diploma as centring on the individual’s “faith journey”, emphasising that while its aim was to extend knowledge of Catholicism, the more important ambition of the course was to surprise students with “things you thought you knew but somehow forgot; the power of Scripture and what it’s about; the role of virtue in the Christian life”.  Sr Anna Marie can be contacted via the archdiocese by anyone interested in participating.

The leaders of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland have expressed solidarity with those overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic.  In their joint message, Archbishop Eamon Martin and Archbishop John McDowell said there are many people who have had not just the two worst Christmases ever, but two of the worst years ever. They expressed solidarity with those whose bodies have been overwhelmed or whose minds have been scrambled by Covid-19 as well as those who have had bereavements during the pandemic, those whose plans have been cancelled, families who have been separated, those who have seen visits curtailed, those whose operations have been postponed, and those who have seen their “businesses and livelihoods upturned”. The “lavishness” of Christmas gives people a heightened consciousness of the homeless, the poor and the rejected, they said. They opened their message with a recollection of a letter written by Monsignor Ronald Knox to the Tablet just before Christmas 1937 in which he referred to a remark made by that friend that she “wasn’t going to have her house turned upside down just because it was Christmas”.  Thinking afterwards about what she had said, Knox wrote: “What is Christmas from start to finish but things being turned upside down?”

Sr Pamela Hussey, beloved of justice and peace campaigners in the UK and Central America, died on 13 December in the Harrogate care home of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. She was 99 years old and would have been 100 on 7 January 2022. An Anglo-Argentinian, Pamela left Buenos Aires for wartime Britain in 1942 where she worked in Scarborough as a wireless telegraphist in an offshoot of GCHQ Bletchley, where she is on the Roll of Honour. In 2018 she was awarded the Légion d'Honneur by the French government for her service during the Second World War. She received letters from two Popes, Benedict XVI and Francis, congratulating her on her Diamond Jubilee as a nun. Another accolade included an MBE in 1999 for “services to human rights in Latin America”. In the 1980s and 90s Pamela had worked on the El Salvador desk at the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR), getting to know the key Church figures in the country and supporting their justice and advocacy work. She was a Founder and Trustee of the Archbishop Romero Trust and its first Treasurer, and in her latter years its Patron.  Julian Filochowski, Chair of the Trust, told The Tablet she was, “a forthright woman religious who pursued social justice, in obedience to the Gospel, with enormous commitment and courage, and with great integrity; she was a paradigm example of authentic missionary discipleship.” Her books included Free From Fear: Women in El Salvador's Church (1990) and Women Making a Difference with Marigold Best (2001). See more in Word from the Cloisters.






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