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Church leaders focus on plight of migrants in Christmas message

By Alf McCreary

Northern Ireland's religious leaders have highlighted the suffering of migrants and the insecurity of millions of people in war zones in their Christmas messages.

In a joint statement, the two Archbishops of Armagh - Church of Ireland Primate the Most Reverend Richard Clarke and Catholic Primate the Most Reverend Eamon Martin - said that the world at the end of 2016 seems a very different place since this time last year.

"People speak of a profound and pervasive sense of uncertainty and insecurity all around us," the clergymen said.

"The plight of so many hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the world today gives us all cause for thought.

"If our concern with our own identity allows us to think of others as less worthy of God's love, or less in his heart of love, then we are both deluded and dangerous.

"Christmas, with its message of joy and hope, is a celebration of the real identity we all share in the love of Jesus Christ."

Church of Ireland Bishop of Connor the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy addressed the refugee crisis in his Christmas message.

"My prayers this Christmas are with those who can find nowhere to stay, or even somewhere safe to stay, people that are homeless, refugees from war and famine in places like Syria, the Yemen and South Sudan," he said.

"For those who worship the Word made flesh, we need to wrestle with the tension of how we can celebrate the moment and yet keep room in our thoughts, prayers and actions for those who have no room in which to live."

Methodist President the Rev Bill Mullally also looked to the Middle East and Islamic extremism in his statement.

"There are slogans of 'Peace on Earth' and 'Goodwill to all', but these are spoken in a world still being convulsed by terrorist activity," he said.

"We have seen the destruction of Aleppo, the killing of the innocents in Nice in late summer, and now within days of the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, we have witnessed the murder of a Russian diplomat in Turkey, as well as the senseless killing of shoppers in a German Christmas Market.

"While many of us will sit down at tables groaning under the weight and variety of food, others in our world will be caught up in a famine situation abroad or looking for a food bank. At a time when we are being told of some who are making money from heating empty sheds, others will endure the cold because they do not have the money to heat their homes."

The Presbyterian Moderator, the Rt Rev Dr Frank Sellar, said that while the rhythm of the seasons of the year is not as discernible as it once was, there is "an assured rhythm" to the Church year "which leads to Christmas itself, and the hope that was found lying in a manger".

"Optimism is the unfolding of what is already here, and what is likely to happen in the future. Hope, on the other hand, has to do with good things in the future that come from outside, from God. The future associated with hope is a gift of something new," he said.

"While the true meaning of Christmas is often overlooked through the seasons in our Post-Truth world, it is my prayer that you will discover the Saviour who was born, lived and died and was raised again at the centre of this hope-filled story."

In a joint statement, Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher the Rt Rev John McDowell and Mgr Joseph McGuinness, the Catholic Diocesan Administrator of Clogher, said that today's world is not all that different to the violence of 2,000 years ago into which Christ was born.

"As then in Bethlehem, so now in Aleppo, Mosul, Cairo. Sometimes in the face of such darkness, we may wonder how the world hangs together at all. For Christians, the answer lies with the child in the manger, the Son sent by his Father to be a light that can never be overcome by darkness," they said.

Church of Ireland Bishop the Rt Reverend Ken Good said that Christmas "can draw out the best in all of us".

"There are many in our world who are troubled, and who are afraid for all sorts of reasons," he said. "We remember them especially at this time of year, and we use the opportunity to give generously to ease their burden. Keep them in your prayers please."

"Optimism is the unfolding of what is already here and what may happen in future"

Rt Rev Frank Sellar, Presbyterian Moderator

"If our concern with our own identity allows us to think of others as less worthy of God's love, or less in his heart of love, then we are both deluded and dangerous"

Joint message from Archbishop Richard Clarke and Archbishop Eamon Martin

"Some will endure the cold because they do not have the money to heat their homes"

Rev Bill Mullally, Methodist President

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