Remember homeless and refugees over Christmas, bishops urge
Church leaders in Ireland have expressed concern in their Christmas messages for the homeless, refugees, those suffering as a result of terror attacks and those affected by flooding closer to home.
The Catholic Bishop of Elphin, Dr Kevin Doran said the classic image of Christmas is that of the Holy Family going from door to door in Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay.
He said it's an image that challenges us all this Christmas as instead of the face of Joseph and Mary, "we see the faces of refugees from the Middle East, of our own homeless people" and "our neighbours in Athleague and Athlone who have had to leave their homes due to the recent flooding".
In Dublin, the Church of Ireland Archbishop Dr Michael Jackson reflected on the year drawing to a close and recalled the "horrific conflagration at the halting site in Carrickmines" and the death of Garda Tony Golden in Omeath, as well as the "refugees fleeing from Syria" and other parts of the Middle East and the "forgotten peoples of Africa".
In a joint message, the Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops of Cork said this year's Christmas celebrations are taking place against the background of "fear and instability" following the terrorist attacks in Paris, war throughout the Middle East, and heightened international tensions.
Appealing to people to wish each other a hope-filled Christmas and New Year, Ireland's two most senior churchmen, Archbishop Eamon Martin and Archbishop Richard Clarke in Armagh, described hope as "a rare commodity" in a world of violence and destruction in their joint message.
On a seasonal note, Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said the Christmas story is not just a nice tale about distant events, a story that the child in each of us still loves.
"It is a carefully crafted adult story. It says that healing in society is possible. And it says that healing will not come from a god of guts and guns but from a defenceless child."
The Bishop of Derry suggested that people's main choice at Christmas is not what presents to give but the story they tell their children "so that they can hope and not just party".
Referring to the forthcoming centenary celebrations of 1916, Dr McKeown said the challenge of how we remember the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme is not to "plunder their memory for selfish ends" but to learn from the past.
On the theme of the centenary of the Rising, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin acknowledged that many people, including Church leaders, distanced themselves from the Rising in 1916.
In his Christmas message, he said that it seems clear that, alongside their courage and idealism, many of the leaders of 1916 were people of faith and that in 2016, as the country celebrates the centenary, "we may need to reflect more carefully on what it means to 'cherish all the children of the nation equally'."
Muslim cleric urges cooperation
Meanwhile, Muslim cleric Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri has urged Christians and Muslims in Ireland to build bridges and prevent a clash of civilisations. He called for the promotion integration in western society.
The Imam of the Blanchardstown Mosque, noted that the lead-up to Christmas coincided with the Mawlid, the festival commemorating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Imam urged Christianity and Islam to come forward in a spirit of cooperation, respect and goodwill to play their role in promoting peaceful coexistence.
He said all faiths must foil conspiracies which blame acts of terrorism on religions.