THE “most formidable weapons against hatred and extremism” are hospitality and love, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his New Year message.
The Archbishop said that he had been inspired by “extraordinary people” at Marsh Academy, a school in his diocese, including a 14-year-old boy who had fled his home in North Africa after soldiers stormed his school and attempted to abduct him. The boy was rescued by a teacher but fled in fear of a repeat attack. He was one of many children making “desperate journeys” alone to save their lives, Archbishop Welby said. “The hospitality of people here brings love, hope and joy. If we imitate them society becomes a far better place.”
The school, set in an area affected by deprivation, “represents the best of what we can do in this country”, he continued. “It welcomes; it loves; it serves; it teaches and equips people, and demonstrates our ability to live up to our long-established tradition of warmth and hospitality.” This tradition was evident in a chapel at Canterbury Cathedral which had been set aside in the 16th century for refugees from persecution in France, and which had the inscription that it bore testimony “to the large and liberal spirit of the English church, and the glorious asylum which England has in all times given to foreigners flying for refuge against oppression and tyranny”.
The Archbishop reminded his audience on the BBC that Jesus had been a refugee: “He tells us to be those who welcome the alien and stranger, the poor and weak. As a nation we have always done so. In today’s world hospitality and love are our most formidable weapons against hatred and extremism.”
The Prime Minister, in his Christmas message, emphasised the benefits of living in a Christian country.
Britain’s “important religious roots and Christian values” had been instrumental in making it “such a successful home to people of all faiths and none”, he said.
At Christmas, Mr Cameron said, “we celebrate the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ — the Prince of Peace. As a Christian country, we must remember what his birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill, and, above all, hope.”
Mr Cameron also recalled that, although Christians “from Asia to Africa” would be going to church on Christmas morning “full of joy”, many would be in fear of persecution. And he talked about refugees in camps or makeshift shelters, “driven from their homes by Daesh and Assad”.
In his Christmas-day sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the plight of Christians in the Middle East, who, he said, faced “elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began”. Addressing a congregation in Canterbury Cathedral, Archbishop Welby said that the Islamic State, or Daesh, was “igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred, and determined oppression”.
“Confident that these are the last days, using force and indescribable cruelty, they [Daesh] seem to welcome all opposition, certain that the warfare unleashed confirms that these are indeed the end times,” he said. “They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis, or Christians.”
Archbishop Welby also tweeted: “In our world today extremists talk of coming apocalypse: it’s already happened — in newborn Jesus, God radically reimagined the world. The apocalypse of Christmas judges every power, reaches every refugee and asks us all how we respond to Jesus, Prince of Peace.”
The Queen in her annual Christmas broadcast to the nation said that the world had faced “moments of darkness” in 2015, and offered “a verse of great hope” in the Gospel of St John: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Sitting in the 18th Century Room at Buckingham Palace, which was decorated for Christmas, the Queen remembered the tradition of the Christmas tree, introduced by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, which, she said, “allows us to reflect on the year that has passed, as we think of those who are far away or no longer with us”.
“Many people say the first Christmas after losing a loved one is particularly hard. But it’s also a time to remember all that we have to be thankful for,” she said.
In Rome, the Pope warned Roman Catholics in his Christmas homily not to be “intoxicated” by worldly possessions. Celebrating a Christmas Eve mass in St Peter’s Basilica, he called for temperance in a world rooted in “consumerism and hedonism, wealth, and extravagance”.
In a Christmas sermon, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, he said that “quibbling” over the number of refugees allowed into the UK showed “a failure to feel what it is like to be in their shoes”. The Government had lost its “sense of proportion” in relation to the crisis, he said, by agreeing to accept only 20,000 refugees in the UK in the next five years. The focus should be on understanding why people were risking the dangerous journey across the seas to Europe.