Seán Cardinal Brady
Archbishop of Armagh
25 December 2008
In the current economic climate, it is all too easy to be pessimistic and to focus on the negative. The child in the manger beckons us to a future full of hope. And there are many good reasons to hope…. There is much talk about re-capitalising the banks with cash. This Christmas let us recapitalise our families, our local community and our society with concern for one another and with love. It is an investment which each one of us can make. It is an investment which comes with a guaranteed return.
Earlier this year I had the joy of travelling to Bethlehem with Archbishop Alan Harper, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Rev Roy Cooper of the Methodist Church and Dr John Finlay of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. It was a remarkable journey.
We learnt that, in contrast to the words of the famous Christmas Carol, the town of Bethlehem is no longer little, nor peaceful and still. Rather, the fears of all the years are present there with stark reality in what is now a small city cut off by a high wall from its neighbours and the outside world. Tragically, Bethlehem has become a byword for conflict and division.
Yet, in the midst of the difficult conditions in Bethlehem there were also vibrant signs of hope, particularly among the young. Young people can transform a difficult situation with their generosity and positive approach to the future. At the Shepherd’s Field Church they led their Irish visitors in an inter-denominational service of prayer for peace. They sang with great joy the words of the Angels to the Shepherds on that first Christmas: ‘Today a saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people of good will’. The young people then spoke to us of their hopes and dreams for the future, of their confidence that one day Israeli and Palestinian would live together in a just and peaceful way because God had shown us the way to peace in the life and message of his Son.
The next day I had a very similar experience when I made a personal visit to the Catholic Parish in Gaza, tragically now back in the news with the break down of the Israeli-Hamas ceasefire. I wanted to show my solidarity with the small Christian community there. It was graduation day at the Holy Family Catholic High School. Most of the young people graduating were Muslim. The streets outside bore all the hallmarks of violent conflict. Buildings had been bombed and hospitals were struggling for resources. People queued for even the most basic things like food and clean water. Even so, the young people graduating danced and sang with enthusiasm and pride for their families and friends. They danced because they believed in a future full of hope. They knew that poverty, set backs and difficulties could not rob them of their dignity and their dreams. They also knew the wealth that comes from a strong family bond and a community that cares. It reminded me of the importance of building strong families and communities that care here at home.
It struck me that this generation of young people have more in common across the world than any generation before. It occurred to me that despite the many divisions in the world, the world now has the chance to become more united than ever before. This is what the child born in the manger in Bethlehem came to do – to make us one, to establish among us a civilisation of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.
In the current economic climate, it is all too easy to be pessimistic and to focus on the negative. The child in the manger beckons us to a future full of hope. And there are many good reasons to hope. If we invest in strong bonds of family and friendship, if we build up communities that care, we will always have good reasons to hope. If we can turn the current global recession into global growth in a culture of care, then we will be in a better place than we were before the current economic crisis began. If we can turn the credit crunch into an expansion in love and concern for others, then we will move closer to a more united, fair and sustainable world. There is much talk about re-capitalising the banks with cash. This Christmas let us recapitalise our families, our local community and our society with concern for one another and with love. It is an investment which each one of us can make. It is an investment which comes with a guaranteed return. Let us rebuild family and community life as well as our economic system so that our future prosperity will be built on more solid foundations than it was before.
I pray that this Christmas will bring all of us in Ireland the blessing of renewed hope for the future and the peace which comes from knowing that God-is-with-us, not just in this season of good will but in every minute, of every day, until the end of time. A Happy Christmas to you all and to all those whom you love.