Bishops speak out against `secular' Easter

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Religious Affairs Correspondent

Two bishops yesterday protested against the secularisation of Good Friday and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, described it as "a challenge to the Church".

The Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Rev Simon Barrington-Ward, criticised the decision of the city council to treat Good Friday as a normal working day, which employees could only take off as holiday. "It has to be easy for Christians to say they want to go to church and this is hard to do in the present culture," he said.

And the Bishop of Birmingham, Dr Mark Santer, said: "Jesus walked to the cross through crowds who jeered and laughed at him. So nowadays if we find the meaning of Easter is largely ignored, we are sharing the experience of Jesus's own disciples.

"This is still a majority Christian country and for Christians Good Friday is one of the most solemn days in the whole of the year. It actually hurts me to see the world not noticing and keeping it as a solemn day.

"People have got to get away from the idea that things like this are just a matter of individual choice" said Dr Santer. "There has to be some sort of commercial and corporate decision to make an effort."

In Coventry, the the city council defended its decision to make Good Friday a normal working day as part of a package of cuts agreed with the unions to save the city pounds 2m a year. Particular controversy was caused by the decision of the council's crematorium to open on Good Friday for the first time, which forced priests to violate tradition and conduct 16 funerals on the day when Jesus died.

Gary Marshall, the council's head of bereavement services, said: "By being open on Good Friday, 16 bereaved families who lost relatives this week will be able to enjoy Easter without the worry of a funeral next Wednesday."