New hope for Holy Land’s minefield churches

Qasr El-Yahud Image copyright Israeli MOD
Image caption Qasr El-Yahud is on the edge of a minefield surrounding a cluster of churches

The soil is parched clay and crackles underfoot, and the only sound we can hear is birdsong.

The seven buildings on this site have lain silent and empty since 1967.

This is a place where pilgrims fear to tread, fenced off with barbed wire and a locked gate, even though it is bisected by the road leading down to the site on the River Jordan where Christians believe Jesus was baptised by John, and began his public ministry.

For almost 50 years, the churches - built in Byzantine times but later booby-trapped, mined and pockmarked by artillery fire - have been crumbling gently in the middle of a minefield.

It was laid mainly by Israeli troops during the 1967 War, when Israel captured the land west of the River Jordan, known today as the occupied West Bank.

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Pope Francis's reforms polarise the Vatican

  • 27 March 2016
  • From the section Europe
Pope Francis Image copyright Getty Images

Rarely has a pope been more popular with the people.

A survey of Pope Francis's standing around the globe shows that he is seen positively by well over half the world. Some 54% say their opinion of him is favourable and just 12% see him unfavourably.

Read full article Pope Francis's reforms polarise the Vatican

'No Jew worthy of the name gives up hope'

  • 2 March 2016
  • From the section UK
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Media captionLord Sacks talks to Caroline Wyatt about how to deal with so-called Islamic State, and the state of Judaism in the UK

Former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Lord Sacks has been awarded the Templeton Prize, worth over £1m, in recognition of his contribution to the spiritual dimension to life.

Lord Sacks, 67, a familiar voice on BBC Radio 4, does not believe science and religion live in opposition to one another - rather that "science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean."

Read full article 'No Jew worthy of the name gives up hope'

Pope and Russian patriarch edge towards warmer relations

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill Image copyright AFP
Image caption Both Church leaders have found they have issues of mutual concern

Pope Francis' meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will be the first between a leader of the Roman Catholic Church and a spiritual head of Russian Orthodoxy since their Churches split in the 11th Century, mainly over the issue of papal authority.

Its significance for both Churches is immense. Whatever the joint declaration they sign when they meet in Cuba on Friday, the simple fact of their meeting is a clear signal the hostility and chill of the past thousand years or so since the Great Schism may finally be edging towards a warmer phase in relations.

Read full article Pope and Russian patriarch edge towards warmer relations

Battle joined over place of faith in education

Children singing in assembly Image copyright Highwaystarz-Photography

Few topics are as fought over or hotly debated in England as education, not least in a week that saw the UK's pupils score badly in literacy and numeracy compared with their international peers.

Throw religion and faith schools (both public and private) into the mix, a chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, whose own personal faith is at the heart of what he does, and a prominent Christian as Education Secretary, in the form of Nicky Morgan, and perhaps it is little surprise secular and humanist campaigners find themselves at odds with the educational establishment.

Read full article Battle joined over place of faith in education

Anglican communion's 'bitter divide' over gay rights

  • 11 January 2016
  • From the section World
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is the communion's spiritual head

This week could mark the last rites for the Anglican communion as a truly global Church.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called the 38 Primates or leaders from the global communion to a make-or-break meeting in Canterbury, where the bitter divides over gay rights and same-sex marriage are expected to dominate discussions.

Read full article Anglican communion's 'bitter divide' over gay rights

Pope Francis: Why mercy is essential in faith and life

  • 10 January 2016
  • From the section World
Pope Francis celebrates mass at the Vatican Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Pope Francis says Christianity is about "embracing the outcast"

First the album, and now the book.

After the Vatican approved the release of a prog rock album which set to music some of Pope Francis' homilies and speeches, the Pope's new book features him in dialogue with a Vatican expert, Andrea Tornielli.

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Does daily worship count for anything?

School assembly

Every day at Christ Church Primary School - a Church of England school on Brick Lane in London - pupils sit together for daily worship, led by the headteacher, Julian Morant.

The pupils come from varying backgrounds, and many different ethnicities, but as he reads from a Bible story, they sit quietly, listening raptly.

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Should buildings be a priority for the Church?

  • 21 December 2015
  • From the section UK
St Mary Newington
Image caption St Mary Newington was bombed during the Second World War

Millions of people will attend church services this Christmas - over five million in England and Wales alone for the main denominations. But what about the rest of the year?

Can the Church of England sustain its almost 16,000 church buildings in the face of declining and ageing congregations, especially in rural areas?

Read full article Should buildings be a priority for the Church?

What is the Catholic Year of Mercy?

  • 8 December 2015
  • From the section World
Pope Francis Image copyright EPA
Image caption Pope Francis wants Catholics to show compassion

Appropriately for the weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas, carpenters and other tradespeople have been kept busy in the run-up to the Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy, installing or ensuring that the Holy Doors, due to be opened at Roman Catholic cathedrals and churches across the world, are safe and functioning.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis will open the original Holy Door at St Peter's Basilica in Rome, the first time it has been opened since the turn of the century, to mark the official start of a year laden with symbolism for Catholics across the world.

Read full article What is the Catholic Year of Mercy?