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Church leaders appeal for protection of vulnerable families

By Sarah Mac Donald - 02 January, 2018

Leaders of the Christian Churches in Ireland have appealed in a joint New Year’s message for greater protection for vulnerable families across Ireland and throughout the world from hardship in 2018.

Describing families as “the essential building blocks of strong, resilient communities”, the Christian leaders state, “Our experience in pastoral and social care underlines the centrality of family wellbeing to effective, long-term solutions to the major social challenges we face today.”

At the beginning of the new year, they announce they are adding their voices to those calling for increased efforts to provide safety, security and protection for vulnerable families.

The statement is signed by the Church of Ireland Primate of All-Ireland, Archbishop Richard Clarke, the Roman Catholic Primate of All-Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Rev Dr Laurence Graham, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Bishop John McDowell, President of the Irish Council of Churches and the Rt Rev Noble McNeely, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

They hit out at how “deeply unfair” it is that “so many parents in our society today feel that they are failing because they cannot provide security for their children,” and many are reluctant to ask for help because of stigma and shame.

The senior church leaders stress that they have been “particularly shocked at the rising levels of homelessness” and underline that it is “one of the most tragic and glaring symptoms of a broken system that is leaving too many people without adequate support”.

The protection of children, our future parents and future leaders, they continue in their joint statement, is one of the primary reasons for the existence of social welfare systems, yet in the Republic of Ireland one in three of those living in emergency accommodation is a child.

In Northern Ireland, families with more than two children are among those most at risk from the combination of welfare changes, cuts to services, and cuts to charities providing vital support to children and young people.

Across the world, over the past year, the number of families displaced by conflict, persecution and destitution has continued to rise, placing the lives and futures of more children at risk, they highlight.

“Families are the hope for the world. In our churches at Christmas time there is a particular emphasis on family as we come together to celebrate our appreciation for God’s gift of hope to a suffering world in the birth of Christ.

“We are reminded that God did not choose the wealthy and the powerful to be the protectors of his Son, but a family that was vulnerable, without a home and forced to rely on the kindness of strangers.”

Appealing to political leaders to focus their efforts in the coming year on measures that will alleviate the hardship experienced by families near and far, restoring hope and preventing people being pushed to the margins of society, they stress that they do not underestimate the challenges faced by our political leaders.

“But we have a vocation to witness to the fact that the essential purpose of political leadership is to protect the common good,” they state.

Referring to next August’s World Meeting of Families event in Ireland, the senior churchmen say that as Christian churches they have taken the opportunity presented by this event to explore together “how we can celebrate the importance of families to our churches and the wider community, recognising that our pastoral care of the family is an essential part of our contribution to society.”

The statement concludes with the Church leaders praying that the coming year will bring hope, joy and peace to all families who are struggling.

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