THE Archbishop of Canterbury has said in his New Year message that the depth of suffering experienced by communities across the UK in the past year had been matched by an outpouring of compassion.
His message was broadcast on BBC1 just after midday on New Year’s Day. Speaking from the Specialist Operations Centre of the London Ambulance Service, Archbishop Welby said that communities affected by the “horror and devastation” of events over the past 12 months, including the Grenfell Tower fire and terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, could choose how to define their year.
“So often in 2017, the depth of suffering was matched by a depth of compassion, as communities came together,” he said. “Which stories will define us? The horror, or the response? The darkness, or the light?
“It is a choice. But not one we have to make alone. Jesus Christ, the light of the world, weeps for our struggles, works for our healing, and invites us to walk in his light. He is right there with us, in the midst of everything.”
The Archbishop commended the response of the Specialist Operations Centre, which fielded calls from the public in the wake of the London Bridge and Borough Market attack in June. He went on to praise the bravery of the members of the emergency services who responded to the Grenfell tragedy, and the hundreds of volunteers who turned out “simply to help strangers in need”.
The Archbishop also drew attention to people whose suffering, he said, “will never make the news”, including the bereaved, people living with mental or physical illness, and those relying on foodbanks.
“When things feel unrelentingly difficult, there are often questions that hang in the air: ‘Is there any light at all? Does anyone care?’ Every Christmas, we hear from the Bible in the Gospel of John the extraordinary words, ‘The light shone in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’”
Pope Francis used a year-end speech to lament the war and the lies that, he said, had marred 2017. During his homily at a service in St Peter’s Basilica on New Year’s Eve, he said that humanity had “wasted and wounded” the year “in many ways with works of death, with lies and injustices”.
While the Pope did not mention specific events in his speech, he has been outspoken on several issues in 2017, including the Rohingya crisis, climate change, nuclear tensions in North Korea, and a chemical-weapons attack in Syria, in April.
War was the fruit of “unrepentant and absurd pride” he said; and he also condemned human, social, and environmental degradation. “We must take responsibility for everything before God, our brothers, and our creation.”
Meanwhile, church leaders in Ireland used their joint New Year message to draw attention to “shocking” levels of homelessness in the country, and to the welfare of families in “uncertain times”. It was signed by the Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland, Dr Richard Clarke; the RC Primate of All Ireland, Dr Eamon Martin; the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Revd Dr Laurence Graham; the President of the Irish Council of Churches, Bishop John McDowell; and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Rt Revd Noble McNeely.
“The protection of children, our future parents and future leaders, 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,” they wrote. “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.”