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World’s Christians Celebrate Easter Amidst Covid-19 Pandemic

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Christians around the world are today celebrating Easter also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday.

Easter is a Christian festival and holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day after his burial following his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD.

There are over 2.3 billion adherents accounting for about 31.2% of the total world population. Rwanda’s population is more than 95% affiliated to Christian faiths. Nigeria has the largest Christian population in Africa.

Reports from the UK’s Church of Canterbury the highest seat of the Anglican faith indicate that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (pictured above) is for the first time giving his Easter sermon across television, local and national radio and the Church of England digital platforms.

A service is premiering on the Church of England website, Facebook and YouTube channels starting at 9 a.m., while viewers of BBC One are able to tune in to a live Eucharist from Canterbury at 10 a.m.

Welby’s Easter sermon proclaims the resurrection as the turning point of history. In raising Jesus to new life, he will say, God makes a “lie” of death.

For the Roman Catholics, Pope Francis their representative with seat in the Vatican is Celebrating the 9th Easter of his pontificate.

Pope Francis delivered a homily at the Easter Vigil Mass, reflecting on what it means to go to Galilee, where the Risen Lord would precede His disciples.

Reflecting on the Easter episode of the women at the tomb, the Pope drew attention to what the angel told them.   

“Wonder at hearing the words: ‘Do not be afraid!” the Pope said.  “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen’.  And a message: ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him’.”

Ushering in the 9th Easter of his pontificate, the 84-year-old pontiff in his homily reflected on what it means to go to Galilee.  First of all, it means to begin anew. 

Galilee was the place of the first encounter of the disciples with the Lord, their first love.  It was here that they listened to Him preach and perform miracles. It was also where they misunderstood His words and in the face of the cross abandoned Him and fled.   

In spite of everything, the Lord invites them to start over from where they began.  “In this Galilee,” the Pope said, “we learn to be amazed by the Lord’s infinite love, which opens new trails along the path of our defeats.”

Hence, he said, the first Easter message of returning to Galilee is that “it is always possible to begin anew despite all our failures. 

“From the rubble of our hearts,” the Pope said, “God can create a work of art; from the ruined remnants of our humanity, God can prepare a new history.” 

“In these dark months of the pandemic,” the Pope urged all to “listen to the Risen Lord as He invites us to begin anew and never lose hope”.

Going to Galilee also means going to the peripheries.  Galilee, an outpost farthest from the ritual purity of Jerusalem, was where Jesus began His mission. 

There, He brought His message to “those struggling to live from day to day, the excluded, the vulnerable and the poor”.

It is in the peripheries that God tirelessly seeks out those who are discouraged or lost.  He goes to the “very peripheries of existence, since in His eyes no one is least, no one is excluded”. 

Thus, the Risen Lord is asking His disciples to go to the settings of daily life, the streets we travel every day, the corners of our cities. 

“There the Lord goes ahead of us and makes Himself present in the lives of those around us, those who share in our day, our home, our work, our difficulties, and hopes.” 

The Pope said, “We will be amazed how the greatness of God is revealed in littleness, how His beauty shines forth in the poor and simple.”

Religion

Jehovah’s Don’t Believe in Worldly Governments

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In July 2017, the Russian Supreme Court rejected an appeal of an earlier ruling sanctioning Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group.

As of now, Jehovah’s Witness gatherings and preaching are criminal offenses in Russia.

The Russian government also has the legal authority to liquidate any property held by Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organization.

The Russian Supreme Court maintains that the country needs to be protected from disloyal religious fanatics.

There are over eight million Jehovah’s Witnesses in 240 countries worldwide. Russia, with a population of more than 150 million, has a total of 117,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses – one Jehovah’s Witness per 850 people.

Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and why would the Russian, or any, government consider them to be a threat?

The story of Jehovah’s Witnesses begins in the late 19th century near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a group of students studying the Bible.

The group was led by Charles Taze Russell, a religious seeker from a Presbyterian background.

These students understood “Jehovah,” a version of the Hebrew “Yaweh,” to be the name of God the Father himself.

Russell and his followers looked forward to Jesus Christ establishing a “millennium” or a thousand-year period of peace on Earth. This “Golden Age” would see the Earth transformed to its original purity, with a “righteous” social system that would not have poverty or inequality.

Russell died in 1916 without witnessing the return of Jesus Christ.

But his group endured and grew. The name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was formally adopted in the 1930s.

Early Jehovah’s Witnesses believed 1914 to be the beginning of the end of worldly governments that would culminate with the Battle of Armageddon. Armageddon specifically refers to Mount Megiddo in Israel where some Christians believe the final conflict between good and evil will take place. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, expected that the Battle of Armageddon would be worldwide with Jesus leading a “heavenly army” to defeat the enemies of God.

They also believed that after Armageddon, Jesus would rule the world from heaven with 144,000 “faithful Christians,” as specified in the Book of Revelation. Other faithful Christians would be reunited with dead loved ones and live on a renewed Earth.

Over the years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have reinterpreted elements of this timeline and have abandoned setting specific dates for the return of Jesus Christ. But they still look forward to the Golden Age that Russell and his Bible students expected.

Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinity. For most Christians, God is a union of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Instead, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is distinct from God – not united as one person with him. The “Holy Spirit,” then, refers to God’s active power. Such doctrines distinguish Jehovah’s Witnesses from mainline Christian denominations, all of which hold that God is “triune” in nature.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have no political affiliations, and they renounce violence. However, they make an easy target for governments looking for internal enemies, as they refuse to bow down to government symbols. Many nationalists call them “enemies of the state.”

As a result, they have often suffered persecution throughout history in many parts of the world.

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“Martyrs of Uganda”, Give Hope Every Tear Shall Be Wiped Away

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Our church year is dotted with a variety of commemorative feasts, days which the church has set aside so that we can give thanks for the life and witness of particular people, people who reveal something to us about what it means to follow Jesus.

June 3 is such a day, the feast of “The Martyrs of Uganda”.

Christianity arrived in the kingdom of the Baganda people (now called Uganda) in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The first missionaries, British Anglicans and French Roman Catholics, were warmly received by the Kabaka, the king, Mutesa, who was impressed that they behaved well and brought no slaves.

The mission went well and the first Anglicans were baptized on March 18, 1882. But on October 9, 1884, Mutesa died.

The new king, Mwanga, was young, just eighteen. He was suspicious of foreigners and had a savage temper.

In October, 1885, after a dangerous overland trek from the Indian Ocean coast, the new Bishop of East Equatorial Africa, James Hannington, made the mistake of entering Uganda from the east, the traditional entry point for enemies.

He was detained and on October 29 executed on order of Mwanga. But Mwanga did not limit his fury to foreigners.

Already in January of the same year Mwanga had had three Anglican boys dismembered and burned because they were working for a missionary, Alexander Mackay, who had refused Mwanga’s protection.

The worst punishments, however, were reserved for Mwanga’s own servants. Many of the boys of the king’s court had become Christians.

They were called “readers” because they had become literate in order to read the Bible, which Mackay was translating.

On May 25, 1886, Mwanga called for some servants. Two pages entered, named Ssebuggwawo and Mwafu. When he questioned their activities of the day Mwafu answered that he had been learning about the Christian faith from Ssebuggwawo.

Mwanga exploded. The king had learned the practice of sodomy from Arab traders and Mwafu was his favourite. Mwanga knew that if Mwafu became a Christian he would no longer comply. Three Christian servants were beaten and killed that day; nine more were executed in various ways over the next week.

Thirty-seven were detained at the execution site at Namugongo, knowing that their end was not far. The story of the last days of this mixed group of Roman Catholic and Anglican teenagers, led by the young catechist Charles Lwanga, is one of mutual encouragement, of support for one another in prayer, of steadfast refusal to recant.

The missionaries were heartsick. They pleaded for the release of the prisoners. They were not forbidden to preach but were told that as many as were converted would be killed.

Finally June 3 arrived. Lwanga was killed at the place of detention, roasted over a slow fire.

It is said that he told his executioners that though they were burning him it was as though they were pouring water over his feet, ‘Beware’, he said, ‘of the fire that lasts forever.’

The rest were marched a mile away where they were rolled in reed mats and bound. Four of the younger boys were clubbed to death to spare them the pain.

Five were given a last minute pardon. At noon the pyre was lit. Thirty-one martyrs were burned. The violence of the Kabaka’s persecution scattered other believers throughout the kingdom where more ‘reading’ soon sprung up.

Namugongo shrine in the capital Kampala

The faith of Ugandan Christianity, nurtured by the witness of the martyrs, has lived through more recent periods of violence.

The regimes of Amin and Obote have both claimed their victims: Archbishop Janani Luwum, murdered by Idi Amin, is now commemorated along with the young boys of the nineteenth century.

Today in Namugongo, in the suburbs of Kampala, there is a small Anglican theological college. In the late 1980’s, in the last days of the regime of President Milton Obote, the Principal of that college was a man named Kasira.

One night soldiers came looking for some of the students of that college. Kasira, claiming that he was responsible for those students, refused to give any information to the soldiers. They killed him where he stood.

In a world which continues to be a place of violence the martyrs of Uganda remind us that there will be a day when every tear shall be wiped away, but that now we are called to mutual encouragement, prayer, steadfast faith and self-giving love.

This article first appeared in The Niagara Anglican in June 1995.

Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand has written and edited numerous articles and books, including Why Haven’t You Left? Letters from the Sudan and A Comparative Study of the Story of the Bleeding Woman in North Atlantic and African Contexts.

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Did Catholic Church Err In Solemnising Prime Minister Boris’ Marriage?

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The Roman Catholic Church is carefully getting scrutinised around the world for solemnising a controversial marriage that goes against the tenets of this religion.

On Saturday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson married his fiancée, Carrie Symonds at a quiete ceremony.

The couple was married by a Catholic priest in Westminster Cathedral in London, the seat of the English Catholic Church.

The big Question is How did a twice-divorced man, with at least one child born out of wedlock, manage to get married in the Roman Catholic Church?

However, the answer could be convincing; Johnson, 56, and Symonds, 33, were both baptized as Catholics.

Neither of Johnson’s previous two marriages was in the Catholic Church so the church does not recognize them, and Symonds had never married.

Background details of the Prime minister indicate that while a teenager at boarding school, he was confirmed as a member of the Church of England. 

Whatever the prime minister’s religious affiliation, the diocese of Westminster said in a statement: “The bride and groom are both parishioners of the Westminster Cathedral parish and baptized Catholic. All necessary steps were taken, in both church and civil law, and all formalities completed before the wedding.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his wife, Carrie Johnson

Many other practicing Catholics who are divorced are turned away by the church when they seek to remarry — to say nothing of same-sex couples who are Catholic.

“It’s not about whether Boris and Carrie should be allowed to get married in the church — they should — it’s about why other Catholics cannot,” said Christopher Lamb, the Rome correspondent of Tablet, a weekly Catholic publication. “Laws are only worth their salt if they’re seen as fair or consistent.”

The church apparently overlooked Mr. Johnson’s conversion to the Anglican faith because under church law, it is now all but impossible — once baptized — to formally defect from Catholicism.

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