By Sarah Mac Donald - 21 December, 2015
As the country prepares to welcome refugees, we are "challenged to engage with the poverty, homelessness sub-standard accommodation that many are living in".
The Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops of Cork have 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 the heightened international tensions as a result.
In a joint Christmas message, Bishop John Buckley and Bishop Paul Colton said they would remember all victims of violence and war.
“The Christmas message of the angels was a promise of ‘peace on earth.’ Jesus Christ is ‘the Prince of Peace.’ In his name we are all called to work for peace, starting with ourselves in our own place and among our neighbours. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, asks us to love our neighbour. This is not simply about ‘the person next door’ or someone we already know.”
They said that in Christianity ‘our neighbour’ is often the person we do not know, a stranger, and someone we see as very different from ourselves.
“Understanding this is the beginning of peace-making. It is also the starting point for our reflection about how we approach one of the main human tragedies spilling over from the Middle East: refugees from war and asylum seekers – our neighbours – who seek to live among us in peace and security.”
The two bishops said that the events of the first Christmas put the predicament of refugees firmly before us as we celebrate Christmas.
“The Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus are marked by journeys. The people of that region in those days were on the move for a census ordered by Caesar Augustus. The shortage of accommodation resulted, ultimately, in Christ being born at the stable, because no one made room anywhere else.”
“The shepherds came from the hillside to Bethlehem. The Magi travelled from the east and for their own safety had to return home by a different route. The Holy Family themselves had to escape, as refugees, to Egypt to avoid persecution and certain death for their baby boy.”
Bishop Buckley and Bishop Colton said that as the country prepares to welcome refugees “we are also challenged to engage with the poverty, homelessness, sub-standard accommodation that many are living in, as well as the plight of those living in Direct Provision, here at home already”.
Wishing everyone peace, joy, warmth and happiness for the celebration they pledged to remember in prayer those who have lost loved ones during the past year, especially those who have been touched by the tragedy of suicide.
In his Christmas message, President Michael D Higgins said that “As we reflect on the story of Christmas and the birth of Jesus, on the plight of the homeless Joseph and Mary anticipating the birth of their child, and how they were aided by complete strangers, we can perhaps draw inspiration from what they experienced for our own lives and times.”
“More than anything, the Christmas story gives us guidance on how to shape our own shared humanity with a regard for future generations. This year in particular, we welcome the acceptance of new obligations by nation states in relation to global poverty and climate change,” the President said.
He reminded Irish society that during 2015 we learnt that 1 in every 122 people on the planet is now a refugee, a “displaced person” or otherwise forced to leave their homes.
Wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people to flee than at any other time since records began.
“As people of a migrant nation we are perhaps uniquely placed to understand the great agony experienced by the 60 million displaced people,” he said.
The President continued, “In this context, it is heartening to see how countless people in Ireland have chosen to respond with warmth and real hospitality. Our NGOs, our medical services, and our uniformed services – both at home and overseas – are peopled by those who have chosen to take action, and to be the stranger that offers a helping hand, a shelter, a meal to those in need.”
“How we treat the weakest among us is the finest test of us as a nation. Together, we can strengthen that web of solidarity that binds us as a people and as a global community next year.”
He said that as Ireland prepares to commemorate the momentous events of a century ago that shaped the birth of our Republic, “we are encouraged not only to recall those events, but also to re-imagine and take inspiration from the Republican ideals proclaimed almost a century ago”.
He added, “It is my sincere hope that those ideals can inspire each and every one of us on our shared journey where each step made by each citizen, in every generation, matters; a journey that we all make together, never alone.”