News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

Former Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn MP has visited St Aloysius’ College in Islington where he spoke about the financial crisis facing many and encouraged students to continue to support their families and the wider community. St Aloysius’ College is currently running a food drive to raise supplies for those in need and donations dropped at reception will be distributed to local charities. Corbyn answered questions from students and staff on a range of issues, including asking his opinion on the government’s approach to mental health and the cost of living crisis. He said: “It is clear that the constant and concerted efforts of the school staff have had a huge impact on the success of the historic school.” Headteacher Paula Whyte said: “We were ranked 12th in the country (GCSE 2022) for progress for Catholic boys’ schools nationally. We are relentless in our mission to continually improve the quality of the education provided to our boys coupled with excellence in pastoral care and it has been wonderful to share our recent achievements with him.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak must act now to avert a major humanitarian catastrophe in East Africa, three former secretaries of state for international development and heads of Britain’s top aid organizations warn in a joint letter. More than 28 million people face life-threatening food insecurity across East Africa, they warn. In drought-hit Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, it is estimated that one person dies of hunger every 36 seconds, and more than seven million children across the three countries are acutely malnourished. The letter said: “East Africa is facing a catastrophic hunger crisis caused by one of the worst droughts in living memory. It looks increasingly likely that the fifth consecutive rainy season has failed in the region, leaving millions of families in desperate situations and at risk of starvation.” The UK has confirmed an allocation of just £156m this year for East Africa , less than a fifth (18 per cent) of the £861m allocated to the region in 2017/18 during the last major hunger crisis. Christine Allen, Director of Cafod, said: “The families I met in Kenya were used to adapting when the going gets tough, but this drought has been unprecedented and has left behind families who otherwise cope with adjusting in to find desperate situations. People are doing what they can to support one another, but they desperately need help.”

An archaeological dig near the town of Helmsley, North Yorkshire, has uncovered a medieval farm linked to the famous Cistercian monastery of Rielvaux. The site is within the North York Moors National Park, it took 16 volunteers the equivalent of 129 days in six weeks to uncover significant evidence of agriculture and trade at the site. Items unearthed so far include jet rosary beads, pottery and glazed tiles. The farm is near a medieval estate built shortly after the founding of the Abbey of Rievaulx in 1132 and administered by the Abbey until its dissolution in 1539. The Cistercians were known for their economic development of Yorkshire, diverting rivers to support grazing of the region’s moorland, England’s historically important wool trade.

The Catholic Union has asked lay Catholics to respond to a government survey on euthanasia. The House of Commons Health and Care Committee has released an inquiry into euthanasia that runs until January 20, 2023. As the inquiry is likely to influence lawmakers in drafting legislation on the issue, the Catholic Union has asked Catholics to voice their views by filing the union on the issue. The group also encourages those with a particular interest or expertise on the subject to submit evidence directly to the bipartisan committee. The news follows the introduction of euthanasia legislation in the Scottish Parliament and in the Territories of Jersey and Isle of Man.

A South London Catholic school is set to close in response to falling enrollments as the governing religious order shifts focus to East Africa. St Francesca Cabrini Roman Catholic Primary School in Southwark, which has been founded and run by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart since 1902, will close at the end of the summer term next year. The Missionary Sisters intend to focus their resources on East African countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia. The school only enrolled 86 places out of a possible 420 as of September 2022. The Forest Hill Road school had 350 pupils on its books as recently as 2016, according to a report by Southwark Council. A combination of factors, including the impact of Brexit and welfare reforms, has since caused enrollment to plummet, according to the council.

Archbishop William Nolan of Glasgow and Bishop John Arnold of Salford, both episcopal leaders for environmental affairs in England, Wales and Scotland, joined more than 150 church and Christian leaders on Tuesday in sending an open letter to the British government in which they regretted last week’s decision to approve a new coal mine in Cumbria. As the UK’s first new coal mine in 30 years, it goes against the UK government’s commitment to phase out coal during its COP26 presidency. The government’s advisory climate protection committee also criticized the launch of the project. Its leader, Lord Deben, called the proposal “absolutely untenable” and said its approval would damage the UK’s leadership on climate change. Bishop John Arnold, episcopal liaison for the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, said The tablet: “Despite the government’s pledge to end coal mining, despite the opportunities to create jobs in renewable energy production in Cumbria, despite the fact that UK steelmakers will not use this type of coal, the government authorizes the opening of a new mine . While illogical, it is a blatant contribution to further climate damage at a time when the Prime Minister recently declared at COP27 that the UK is at the forefront of protecting the environment.”

A new St Vincent de Paul Society Support Center has been officially opened by Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley and SVP Secretary Elizabeth Palmer in south Birmingham. Based at Manningford Hall, Druids Heath, the center will support those in need in the area and will initially be open three days a week. As of Friday December 2, it opened as a “warm place” for the winter, where people can enjoy a cup of tea and a light lunch when they can’t heat their own house or apartment. There will also be a food distribution and over time plans to include senior lunches, mothers’ and toddlers’ groups, counseling and support for women in or fleeing abusive relationships, and support for special needs children and their parents. Members of the local SVP conference, SS Dunstan and Jude will also be on call to visit, assess and if possible assist those in need.

About 60 women and seven men gathered at Ushaw College, Durham, for a conference organized by the National Board of Catholic Women entitled “Focus on Women on the Periphery”. The conference called on women to continue to be involved in the synodal process of the church and to engage in intergenerational project work with vulnerable women to build a sustainable church. Executive Chair Margaret Smart said, “The often unheard voices of youth and women were heard forcefully in a Spirit-filled and vibrant environment.” Speakers included Sr. Marie Kolbe Zamora of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops of the Vatican, as well as the professors of theology and religion Anna Rowlands and Karen Kilby of Durham University. Abbot Hugh Allan represented the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Prof. Anna Rowlands explained that many are encountering new people and ideas in the synod process and that there is now a task for the church to move closer to the ordinary life of women and to be a strong ally of women. The lives of women affected by violence, poverty and environmental challenges were studied by Dr. Pat Jones of Women at the Well, Elizabeth Palmer of SVP, Nikki Dhillon Keane of NBCW’s Violence Against Women and Girls Committee, and Christine Allen of Cafod.

Bishops in Ireland are working with the Irish Red Cross and district councils to modernize vicarages for Ukrainian families. Ireland’s housing shortage has compounded the challenges of housing over 70,000 Ukrainian refugees since Russia invaded Ukraine last February. A special collection was held at trade fairs last March, raising 4.5 million euros for refugees and people remaining in Ukraine. In a statement after their winter general meeting, the bishops said they had worked with donors including the Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation and the Benefact Trust to fund church projects, including shelter, for Ukrainian refugees. This also includes the provision of English classes, information sessions, recreational activities, Ukrainian language resources and purchase of basic groceries, as well as a grant to the Church of Ukraine based at Donnycarney Parish in Dublin.

Irish bishops have expressed concern about political uncertainty in Northern Ireland. The lack of devolved government and a functioning elected assembly in Stormont, they warned, adds to the many challenges families are currently facing, including rising prices for essential goods and financial pressures on those on low incomes and with few savings. “We call on all elected officials to remain focused on serving the common good: a shared and peaceful future can only be built on the foundation of a shared and compassionate present,” they said. The bishops also stressed that 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the Ballymascanlon Talks, during which the Catholic Church developed strong ecumenical relationships that have continued to grow over the past five decades. A joint ecumenical thanksgiving service will be held on 22 January at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast with Archbishop Eamon Martin and Rev Harold Good of the Church of Ireland. The Irish Inter-Church Meeting meets annually and the Inter-Church Meeting, which brings together church leaders, meets four times a year. The last conference was entitled: “Creative reconfiguration of our understanding of the church after the pandemic”.

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