Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Church leaders deliver festive calls of hope and reconnection

The leaders of the main churches in Northern Ireland have been reflecting on the tough economic times being faced this Christmas in their festive messages.



But there is also a theme of hope and renewal from our most senior clergymen.

Presbyterian Moderator Dr Roy Patton urged people to think of others struggling at this time of year.

“Regardless of what you are hoping for, stop for a minute and think about those approaching this Christmas with little or no hope. Think about families, as the economy continues to bite, and people lose their jobs, or can't find one,” he said.

“Think about young people uncertain about what, if anything, the future holds. Think about those living in our communities who feel socially isolated, abandoned, frustrated, disconnected and discontented; second-class citizens, those with little sense of aspiration for something better.

“The Good News of Christmas is that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son’. Isn't that the most valuable and hope-filled investment any person or community can receive?”

The Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor, meanwhile, said that “despite our common Christian heritage and faith, old ghosts, untamed and myopic tribal forces, have returned to haunt us, and menace our future”. “Census and poll results on religious identity and practice have caught our attention and shape attitudes for some time,” he said on behalf of the Catholic Church.

“Yet the Good News of the Gospel retains its radical newness. It challenges one's mind and heart afresh in each year's circumstances. Year on year, at Christmas, it offers its light and life in the Christ child.”

The new Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Dr Richard Clarke, reflected on how people can become angry and bitter if they lose faith.

“When people stop connecting with their religious faith... they may easily then start to lose faith in themselves, and hence lose faith also in those around them, and so become angry, embittered and fearful,” he said.

“In this Christmas season we are each challenged to connect or reconnect with our family, friends and others who are without friends, but also to connect or reconnect our lives with a faith that tells us that we are each loved in Jesus Christ, and that calls us to carry Christ's love into the dark and lonely places of this world.”

In a joint statement, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher John McDowell and his Catholic counterpart Dr Liam McDaid urged people to “leave aside the presents and the extras for a few days and listen to the one whose birth we are planning to celebrate”.

Methodist President, the Reverend Kenneth Lindsay, referred to “the humble birth of Christ and to His inner humility”.

“God gives us the right to choose, but he has the power to enable,” he said.

“Those who believe in, and trust, Jesus for their daily lives can have that attitude of humility which helps us to see the value in others and to seek their good before our own.

“God will pour out his blessing on all of us — as we seek to be a blessing to others, we find ourselves repeatedly and fully blessed.”

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