29 November 2022, The Tablet

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

Mass of Investiture of The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem In St George Cathedral.

The Republic of Ireland’s new ambassador to the Holy See presented her credentials to Pope Francis on Monday, 28 November.  Frances Collins replaces Derek Hannon, who has led the Irish mission at the Vatican since 2018.  Ms Collins, from Darrara, West Cork, is a graduate of the University of Limerick and has served in several roles in Ireland’s foreign affairs department, including in its Ugandan embassy, as part of the EU mission to South Sudan and most recently as the vice director of its disarmament and non-proliferation section.  The Bishop of Cork and Ross, Fintan Gavin, assured her of “any support I can give as she takes up this special position” when she was appointed earlier this year.

Pax Christi, the Catholic peace and non-violence campaign group, has appointed a new chief executive. Andrew Jackson, previously head of Christian peacemaker group Chips (Christian International Peace Service), has taken over from Theresa Alessandro, chief executive since 2019. Pax Christi International, founded in 1945, has branches all over the world, with Pax Christi England and Wales founded in 1958, continuing to campaign on disarmament, peace education, and climate change conflict. The group’s Advent Service will be held on Saturday 3 December at 2pm at the Church of the Holy Apostles, Pimlico.

The London Faith and Belief Community Awards ceremony, held in Westminster Abbey, this year honoured the work of two Catholic groups for their work with vulnerable people. Caritas Bakhita house, set up in 2015, helps women escaping human trafficking find safe homes, legal and financial assistance and mentoring. The Companions of the Order of Malta’s Cafe and Donation Hub initiative ministers to homeless and vulnerable people throughout London. Both projects were recipients of awards from the Faith and Belief Forum at the 300-strong ceremony on Wednesday 23 November.

The President of the British Board of Deputies, Marie van Der Zyl, was among 200 Jewish community leaders who took part in a kosher meal and reception at the Vatican hosted by Pope Francis. Attending as part of the World Jewish Congress, van Der Zyl, recently appointed commissioner on gender equality for the international organisation, said her meal there was “an incredible experience”. Speaking to Jewish News, she described the reception as an “historic event”. The Pope’s speech to the gathering focused on the common challenges facing Jews and Christians, especially the ongoing “sacrilegious” war in Ukraine. 

The charity First Light, based in the South West, will run the Safe Spaces support service for victims for church-related abuse from January 2023.  The service, jointly funded by the Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Church of England and the Anglican Church in Wales, was put out to tender after a two-year pilot period run by the charity Victim Support from September 2020.  Safe Spaces offers a national helpline for remote support, and assists with information and advocacy for people aged 18 or over who have been victims of any sort of church-related abuse at any point in their lives. 

The International Day for Ending Violence Against Women and Girls on 25 November was commemorated with a statement from the National Board of Catholic Women and the Catholic Social Action Network. They said that the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating the problem of violence as poverty traps increasing numbers of women and girls in situations where they are exploited, oppressed and abused. In addition, migrant women with no recourse to public funds are not protected by the UK’s Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and are therefore particularly vulnerable. The day is being followed by 16 days of global activism against gender-based violence, ending on 10 December, Human Rights Day. The National Board of Catholic Women, a consultative body to the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, formed a new committee in 2020 which focuses solely on issues relating to violence against women and girls, to sit alongside their other key work areas. 

Mgr Philip Moger, a priest of the Leeds diocese, has been appointed as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Southwark. He has until now, been the Rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. Archbishop of Southwark John Wilson said: “He brings a vast array of experience to this new mission having serving the Church as a priest for forty years. I know he will be such a great blessing to the people and communities in our archdiocese, bringing gifts of joy, encouragement and personal warmth.”

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice has said the findings of a report into the death of a woman in Mountjoy Women’s Prison in Dublin in 2019 should be “a watershed moment for female imprisonment in Ireland” and “a catalyst for change”. It said Ms X needed mental health services, not imprisonment. “This young woman was imprisoned because she could not afford to pay a small sum of money for bail. She ultimately ended up paying with her life.” The report was conducted by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons. Keith Adams, penal policy advocate at the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice said: “Safe and humane custody is the bare minimum requirement of any criminal justice system.” He added that Ms X’s death raised many fundamental questions about “how we imprison women in Ireland and the type of women we choose to imprison. Many women with severe mental ill-health are imprisoned in overcrowded female prisons, and here we see the lethal consequence of this practice.”

Homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has strongly criticised homeless hostels which expect people to share rooms as “an insult” to their dignity. Speaking on RTE Radio 1’s “This Week”programme, the Jesuit said many homeless people often have to share a room with up to six others and they may end up sharing with someone who is using drugs. He said they would not feel safe in that situation. Fr McVerry also warned that the failure to provide adequate housing was contributing to the rise in racism as some people were blaming refugees for the increased pressure on a limited supply of accommodation.  “We’re really in a deep, deep crisis. There simply isn't the accommodation available for the people who need it, and it doesn't look likely that there is going to be anything like sufficient accommodation in the near future,” he said. The latest figures from the Department of Housing showed there were 11,397 people in emergency accommodation in October, including 3,480 children.

The Bishop of Meath has appealed to anyone with even a “scrap of information” about those who were abducted and disappeared during the Troubles to come forward and end families’ “painful time of waiting”. At Mass in St Catherine’s Church, Oristown, Co Meath, Bishop Tom Deenihan said no one “deserves to be abandoned in a field or bog” and no family deserves not to have the consolation of a grave. He was joined at the Mass by nine families whose relations were abducted, killed and buried secretly during the conflict in Northern Ireland. Six of the nine families of the Disappeared have seen their relations’ bodies recovered, but three are still waiting, praying and searching, he said. “Time is passing,” Bishop Deenihan said and noted that the relatives of Joseph Lynskey have been waiting to find his body since 1972, the family of Columba McVeigh have been waiting since 1975 and Seamus Maguire’s family have been waiting since 1973.   

Caritas Westminster has called on the government to uprate benefits immediately in line with inflation, in its response to the Chancellor’s Autumn statement: “With our churches and schools opening up warm spaces and food banks getting busier, we are extremely concerned about how people are going to get through the winter months and the financial pressures of Christmas.” Caritas encouraged the Catholic community in tWestminster to join other Catholics from around the country to write to their MPs to ask for immediate action to help individuals and families over the difficult winter months ahead, to describe the poverty in their localities and to share the good news of what the Catholic community is doing to meet urgent needs.

LGBT+ Catholics Westminster and Catholics for Aids Prevention and Support organised a World Aids Day Mass at Farm Street Jesuit church on 1 December. The celebrant and preacher was to be Fr David Birchall SJ, director of the London Jesuit Centre, who ministered on the Aids ward of San Francisco General Hospital in the US at the height of the HIV/Aids pandemic.  CAPS also mounted a HIV/Aids display in a Farm Street church side-chapel from 26 November – 4 December, where red ribbons and information literature were available. They helped organise an online service on 26 November: “Standing Together Stronger: Healing Stigma”.

Martin Drennan, the former Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and apostolic administrator of Kilfenora, died on 26 November aged 78.  A Kilkenny native, he studied in Maynooth and Rome and was the spiritual director of the Irish College in the 1980s. He was ordained in 1968 and served the Diocese of Galway from 2005 to 2016. The Archbishop of Armagh, Eamonn Martin, described the late Bishop Drennan as “a deeply spiritual, devoted and generous priest and bishop, who was widely respected for his piety, humility, intelligence and strength of character”.



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