In England, faith groups work to heal riot-scarred towns

August 9, 2011

LONDON

Many faith communities in England are working together on the front line this week after three days of rioting in which hooded youths ransacked hundreds of businesses and shops in many parts of London, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham and smaller towns.

A 26-year-old man was reported killed in Croydon, south of London and more than 500 people have been arrested after business and shops were burned and looted.

Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament from summer recess and vowed to put an additional 16,000 police officers on the streets.

Parishes around the country have been offering support to shell-shocked residents. The Anglican church of St. Mary the Virgin in Tottenham, where the unrest began on Aug. 6, is distributing meals, providing hot water and phone charging facilities to those left without electricity.

St. Ignatius Catholic Church in nearby Stamford Hill is offering food and counseling. The Rev. Valentin Dedji of St. Mark’s Methodist Church in Tottenham is caring for the family of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old whose killing by police last week sparked a peaceful demonstration on Aug. 6 that spiraled into violence.

On the evening of Aug. 8, Christians, Muslims and Jews gathered for a prayer vigil in Tottenham and more vigils are planned.

Phil Rosenberg, interfaith officer from the board of Deputies of British Jews, said seeing London’s faith communities coming together gave hope that “a city so dear to us all” could be rebuilt.

“By our standing together, we have the beginnings of an answer to the challenge facing London. If people from different backgrounds, different faiths and different professions, can come together for London, we can rebuild this great city, and make it a much better city yet,” he said, noting that Aug. 9 is the Jewish date the 9th of Av, which marks the occurrence of “sinat chanim,” or baseless hatred. 

Deep social inequality, the promotion of consumerism and loss of hope for young people blighted by high unemployment must all be acknowledged before the riots in Britain’s inner cities can be overcome, said Alan Craig, retired Christian Peoples Alliance party leader and member of Newham Council in London’s East End.

He said that many Christians are working in inner cities “to offer hope, where many have lost all hope in the face of an economic downturn and government austerity measures. The rioting has to stop. There is no excuse for mindless violence and avarice. But neither must we demonize these young people.”

A spokesman for the Finsbury Park Mosque said members are very concerned about the riots and working to build peace through various initiatives. Recently they funded interactive workbooks to help local primary school children learn about the nature of anti-social behavior and the effect it can have on communities.

In a statement, the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, condemned the violence and asked for prayers especially “for those facing danger on the streets, those whose livelihood has been ruined, those whose lives are marked by fear, those whose parents are worried about the behavior of their youngsters and for those who, at this time, are being tempted into the ways of violence and theft. May God grant us courage and determination to shape our lives with dignity, self respect and care for the common good.”

The President of the Methodist Conference, meeting in Durban, South Africa, the Rev. Leo Osborn, said they were deeply saddened to hear of the riots. “We have been assured of the prayers of the worldwide Methodist family for all who have suffered distress and loss, to which, of course, I add my own prayers.”

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