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Reach out to those who suffer, says Dr Williams

CHURCH LEADERS' New Year messages urged action for the sake of the poor and vulnerable.

The Archbishop of Canterbury called on people living in comfort to draw closer to those who were suffering. Even the smallest act - like a word or two to a Big Issue-seller, or an Amnesty card to a political prisoner - would help close the gap, Dr Williams said.

"When disasters and tragedies come on us thick and fast - and this last year has seen so many horrors of suffering, natural and man-made - it's painful to accept that we can't just do something straight away to set it all right. So we need to see that the one thing we can do is to try and close the gap, to let others know that they are not on their own."

Part of Dr Williams's address was filmed at the 999 club, a drop-in centre in Deptford, in south-east London. "Those who work here will tell you the point isn't to solve the problems, but chiefly to say to everyone who comes through the doors that they don't have to face them alone," he said.

The Primate of All Ireland, Dr Robin Eames, spoke of the possibility of progress at every level in Ireland. "History will not judge us kindly if we allow old animosities to dictate how we regard each other," he said. "Memories run deep throughout this community. But it is how we deal with memories which will determine our future."

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill, urged the government of the Irish Republic to allow permanent residence to refugees and asylum-seekers who had been in the country for five years without clarification of their status. Many "face into the new year with a deep sense of fear in relation to possible deportation", he said.

"Among these are a small number of unaccompanied minors, most with little or nothing to which to return. Our thoughts go out to these teenagers, who may have been here for three or four years assimilating to Irish society, gaining from our educational system, and now on reaching 18 facing into yet another upheaval, being forced to return to something from which they once fled."

The Canadian Primate, the Most Revd Andrew Hutchison, said that Canada "with its surplus in the billions" should lead the world in promoting the Millennium Development Goal of 0.7 per cent of GDP for development by 2015.

The Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Riah Abu El-Assal, said he had been moved to tears of anger by seeing "little Bethlehem besieged with an iron gate" . The only hope was "in a star that neither tanks nor fighter planes - nor separation walls - could stop its light from penetrating the darkness that was".

The Pope, in an apparent criticism of the President of Iran's call for Israel to be "wiped off" the map, said that countries that incited their citizens to hate other nations bore a heavy responsibility. "In regions particularly at risk, they jeopardise the delicate balance achieved at the cost of patient negotiations, and thus help make the future of humanity more uncertain and ominous."

Every government that had or wanted nuclear weapons should "strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament". The money saved could help the poor, Benedict XVI said.

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