Former first minister Arlene Foster has spoken out against those who say that religion and politics should never mix. When speaking at the St Patrick Centre to a live audience, she discussed her own faith as well as her political career. Expressing her frustration she said, ‘Christianity doesn’t call you to be neutral. It calls you to be salt and light about what you believe in. It does annoy me when people say you have to take religion out of politics and leave it at the door, or like it only happens at the weekend. It is part of who you are. Your Christianity and your faith is something that is with you all the time. You can’t just leave it at home on Sunday night and go out without it on Monday.’

When she checks her son at night, Sandy Birtles can hardly see her teenager for all the coats on his bed. The single mother of two says they have to be careful not to use too much hot water, and they do all they can to keep warm but the bills keep rising. ‘I do not have the heating on when the kids are at school. If I'm not running around and clearing up, then I'm wrapping up in a coat.’ She said that financial pressures mean she has been ‘penny-pinching all the time’, but rising energy bills have added to the strain. A charity has predicted that she - and millions of others - will face a particularly difficult bill shock early next April when domestic energy prices rise. Domestic gas bills will have doubled in 18 months. Pray for suppliers to give more support to struggling customers.

A well-known chocolate brand has omitted any reference to Advent from its Christmas calendars, calling them instead ‘Countdown Calendars'. Known to fans simply as Tony’s, the Fairtrade brand was founded in 2005 by three TV journalists who discovered that many chocolate manufacturers bought cocoa from plantations accused of modern slavery and using child labour. Launching their first festive calendar their promotion asked, ‘Are you looking for a way to count down to Christmas that gives you an excuse to chomp on our chocolate for 24 days straight? This is it.’ The company said making no reference to Advent keeps it ‘accessible to all who celebrate the festive season’. Christian Concern expressed unease over the marketing, saying, ‘To remove Advent from Christmas is to miss the meaning of Christmas.’ Others also criticised the ‘woke’ move, asking what is a ‘countdown’ to if not the birth of Jesus Christ.

Days after 27 people drowned in the English Channel, the BBC discovered that smuggling gangs are still telling migrants it is safe to cross. One smuggler said that the drownings were a lie and that there was no danger in making the journey. The brutal journeys migrants make across the Channel are full of stories of crisis. Pray for the detection and removal of the guerrilla-style smuggling operations among the French dunes. Pray for authorities to have more compassion for the streams of soaking passengers washing ashore in Kent. Pray for this international criminal industry to be thwarted by even more sophisticated detection. Pray for an end to the supply of specially-made boats that refugees are packed into. New arrivals in French camps are given tips on how to find a people-smuggler. One young man from Afghanistan was told to look for ‘the Kurdish man’ hanging around during food distribution.

The world is in a critical hunger situation. The global prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020 was equal to the previous five years combined. Nearly one in three people globally (2.37 billion) did not have enough food in 2020. Moderate or severe food insecurity affects over 30% of the world. Covid-19 had a devastating impact on the global economy, triggering an unprecedented recession not seen since the Second World War, and the food security and nutrition status of millions of people, including children, will deteriorate if we do not take swift action. We can pray for God to inspire united humanitarian and peacebuilding policies in conflict-affected areas that will ease blockages to food distribution and develop avenues of safe transit of all aid. Pray for the UN to intervene in food supply chains so that costs of nutritious foods are lowered.

India has the second-largest Christian population in Asia, but a recent report states that over 300 attacks on Christians took place in the first nine months of 2021. 169 of them were in four states: BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh, tribal-dominated Jharkhand, and BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. At least nine states have planned anti-conversion laws, including Chhattisgarh which has emerged as a ‘new laboratory’ for anti-Christian hatred in India. Over 1,000 people recently gathered for a Stop Religious Conversions rally - one in a series of events organised in the garb of anti-conversion protests. Addressing the gathering, a far-right Hindu leader urged the people to ‘arm themselves with axes to teach Christians indulging in conversions a lesson’.

In 2013, China's President Xi Jinping said that ‘whoever controls data has the upper hand’, and ever since he has been on a technological quest to build what some call a blueprint for a digital dictatorship. It would not only allow China's communist government to control huge volumes of data on its own citizens but also of those around the world. Dustin Carmack, who worked as chief of staff for the director of national intelligence, said, ‘You are talking about vast amounts of data they are running between, either in covert or overt cyber-attacks. In other realms, they are sucking up massive amounts of data around the globe that could have nefarious purposes in the long run.’ China has over 415 million surveillance cameras deployed throughout the country. Beijing uses digital currency, social security cards, social credit systems, and online interactions to keep an even closer eye on its citizens. Experts say China wants to be the global leader in exporting its authoritarian surveillance tech to other like-minded regimes.

On 29 November, senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia met Iranian officials in Vienna to discuss bringing Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which eased sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme. The talks could pave the way for the US to rejoin the accord. Israel is making efforts to stop a return to the previous agreement and prevent implementing an interim agreement, a plan the US is considering as a stop-gap if a full agreement cannot be reached. The nuclear talks resumed with upbeat comments despite Tehran's negotiating team demanding that all US and EU sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear programme, be removed.

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