27 April 2022, The Tablet

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

Sir Patrick Vallance, pictured talking to Chris Whitty and Robert Jenrick in Downing Street, is to lead a briefing on climate change.
Ian Davidson/Alamy Live News

A Catholic school in West Cumbria with only one student has announced plans to permanently close this coming August. St Joseph’s Catholic Primary in Cockermouth has suffered falling pupil numbers for several years, with only four pupils in attendance at the beginning of this year in January 2022. According to the local news website Cumbria Crack, Cumbria County Council decided to begin the process of closing the school at a meeting on 21 April. Despite three-quarters of respondents to a survey on the schools future disagreeing with closure plans, councillors said the school’s falling attendance, declining funding and failure to improve on a poor Ofsted rating made the decision inevitable. Speaking to The Tablet, Fr Michael Doherty, episcopal vicar for education in the Diocese of Lancaster, described the closure as a “tragic day for the Catholic community”, coming after years in which local Catholics and the diocese had “worked hard to find ways for the school to continue”.

A new dashboard on religion has been launched by the European Academy on Religion and Society. The dashboard is a large database of summaries from European media articles on religion and society. With several graphs and other functionalities, the tool enables users to gain new insights into the role of religion in European societies today, the academy said. The aim is to make knowledge of the impact of religion on society widely accessible and available. The dashboard is available for free on www.earsdashboard.com.

Oxford, Cambridge and RSA, a leading UK awarding body, paid tribute to Catholic naturalist Mary Colwell when it announced on 21 April that its plans to introduce a GCSE in natural history have been approved by the Department for Education. The new qualification, launched at London’s Natural History Museum, aims to enable students to develop a rich understanding of the natural world, from their own local wildlife, environment and ecosystem to critical global challenges like climate change, biodiversity and sustainability.

Faith groups in the UK are opposing the government’s plans for an “anti-boycott bill” which would dramatically affect their ability to campaign for social and climate justice. Under the proposed legislation, public bodies could be forced to follow UK foreign policy in their purchasing, procurement and investment decisions. Faith groups including Quakers in Britain, the Methodist Church in Britain, the United Reformed Church and the Muslim Association of Britain have joined other civil society groups in calling for the plans to be dropped. Signatories to the statement, who include Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, say that the new law would stop the use of the tactics that helped liberate South Africa from apartheid, stifling campaigns from fossil fuel divestment to arms embargoes. “The proposed law presents a threat to freedom of expression, and the ability of public bodies and democratic institutions to spend, invest and trade ethically in line with international law and human rights,” the statement says.

MPs are to be briefed on the climate crisis after an activist’s hunger strike at Westminster. Angus Rose, 52, ended a 37-day hunger strike last week after the all-party parliamentary group on climate change promised to arrange a televised briefing on climate change for all MPs by the chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance in the new parliamentary session. Rose, raised a Catholic, was supported in his vigil by members of Christian Climate Action. He ended his hunger strike 17kg lighter, after consuming nothing but fluids, vitamins, and minerals. Rose, an electronics engineers, said the recent conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, insufficient Government action over global warming and concern for his five nephews and niece pushed him to take on the moniker of “uncle on hunger strike” and sit outside the gates of parliament for five weeks.

A new app, which is aimed at helping people deepen their faith, is to introduce content from the leading synodal minds in the Church, including from Sr Nathalie Becquart, the Undersecretary to the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican. Aspal, which is the Irish for apostle, is the brainchild of the Adult Faith Development Group of the Diocese of Ossory in collaboration of St Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth. Launching the app and digital platform, Fr Dermot Ryan, director of the Osorio Adult Faith Development Group said, “This is but the first step on our digital journey to serve the Church across Ireland by providing the very best faith formation to users and to do so in a way that makes learning more accessible by deepening our knowledge and love of God.” A weekly course on praying with the scriptures through lectio divina was followed by over 200 people each week during Lent. The app and the digital platform were funded with money from the Koch Foundation and the Benefact Trust, which is one of the UK’s largest grant-making charities. It awarded more than £23 million to Churches, charities and communities in 2020.

“A lot is asked of and expected of a priest,” Bishop Fintan Monahan acknowledged as he ordained Fr Antun Pasalic to serve in the Diocese of Killaloe. The Croatian native, the bishop said, was “answering a call of the Irish to come and walk among us. We welcome you among us today.” A native of Zagreb, the new priest first came to Ireland when he was 18 years old and worked for some time in the Cistercian Abbey in Roscrea. He began his studies for the priesthood in St Patrick’s College Maynooth in 2015. Ordained a deacon in September 2021, he has been ministering in the Ennis Parish and Abbey Pastoral Area. In his homily at the ordination Mass in the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul, Ennis, Bishop Monahan said he hoped that Fr Antun, in collaboration with his fellow priests and the new lay ministers of the diocese, would renew in many ways the lives of all who live in the diocese, in the home, the school, and the workplace. “As a new priest, Antun arrives at the dawn of a new beginning in these synodal times for exploring and developing new directions for the Church of the present and the future,” he said.

Caritas Westminster has supported thousands of families to help them access food since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since launching in 2020, more than 11,000 people from more than 3,500 households have been supported through the Caritas Westminster emergency supermarket voucher scheme, across London and Hertfordshire. Holy Saturday marked two years since Caritas Westminster distributed their first emergency supermarket vouchers. As the effects of the pandemic set in, parish priests and school staff saw more requests for help and church food banks witnessed demand increase by up to 400 per cent. 

The Diocese of Down and Connor has distanced itself from comments made by the parish priest of Corpus Christi in Ballymurphy, Belfast who urged his congregation to vote for candidates from the Aontú party in May's assembly election. “The views and opinions expressed by Fr Patrick McCafferty were communicated in a personal capacity,” the diocese said. During Mass on Easter Monday, Fr McCafferty accused parties including Sinn Féin, the SDLP, and Alliance of promoting abortion. “I don't like to talk about politics from the pulpit but I have a responsibility as a priest to ask the faithful to vote in accordance with what the Church teaches and what our faith believes,” he said.








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