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Welby’s New Year message commends sacrifice of armed forces

02 January 2024

BBC/Lambeth Palace/Jason Bye

Archbishop Welby talks to a member of the armed forces at RAF Brize Norton

Archbishop Welby talks to a member of the armed forces at RAF Brize Norton

SERVICE and sacrifice were the themes of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Year message for 2024 — together with a reminder that conflict and death did not have the final word.

In a short film broadcast on the BBC, which opened with scenes from the Coronation military parades, Archbishop Welby spoke of the values embodied by the armed forces.

“Our military were at the centre of the celebrations”, he said, “not just because the world marvelled at their displays of pageantry, but because they, like many, many others in the country, embodied the theme of the Coronation service.”

When swearing allegiance to the new monarch, the armed forces promised to be faithful and to obey orders, he said. “They understood that it wasn’t about being served by us, but to serve.”

The film showed Archbishop Welby visiting RAF Brize Norton, where almost 6000 service personnel are based. He paid tribute to their service, in both keeping the country secure and delivering humanitarian aid after natural disasters and global conflict.

“RAF Brize Norton is also the place where personnel who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice abroad come home when they’ve lost their lives,” he reminded viewers.

Archbishop Welby said that war seemed to be everywhere at the moment: “wars we know about, wars forgotten. I’ve seen for myself the ongoing human cost of war. In Ukraine, I went to Bucha, where evidence of atrocities was found.

“I’ve met Ukrainian refugees, most recently in Georgia and Romania. Families having to start again in a new country. I’ve met refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh after they left their homes because of conflict. And in Jerusalem, last October, I sat and listened to some of those traumatised by war — Palestinian and Israeli.”

The Christian message was one of peace, he said. “Jesus Christ tells us to stand with those suffering because of war and to seek to make peace. And we trust in a God who promises peace with justice.”

The New Year would hold challenges and opportunities, he said. “Jesus Christ came not to be served but to serve in his death and resurrection. We know that conflict and death do not have the final word. Instead, victory is with peace and the eternal life to come.”

In a separate interview, also broadcast on New Year’s Day, Archbishop Welby called for the UK’s political leaders not to think of their opponents as enemies, especially given the approach of the next General Election. “I hope and pray they will forswear wedge issues,” he told Dame Emma Walmsley, the chief executive of the pharmaceutical company GSK, who was the guest editor for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Democracy, he said, was “effectively reconciled civil war”, and people in the UK were fortunate to have the capacity to disagree very deeply, but not destructively. “Now, that’s going to be the challenge for this year,” he continued.

“We have to say [that] my opponent is never my enemy. My opponent is always my fellow human being. We disagree profoundly. We disagree on incredibly important things, but they’re human. We respect each other’s dignity, that humanity as a humanity of those who support them.”

The Pope reflected on the theme of artificial intelligence (AI) in his message for 2024 World Day of Peace, marked on 1 January.

“New digital tools are even now changing the face of communications, public administration, education, consumption, personal interactions and countless other aspects of our daily lives,” he said.

He called on world leaders to put policies in place to ensure that AI development served the cause of human fraternity.

“It is my prayer at the start of the New Year that the rapid development of forms of artificial intelligence will not increase cases of inequality and injustice all too present in today’s world, but will help put an end to wars and conflicts, and alleviate many forms of suffering that afflict our human family,” he said.

“May Christian believers, followers of various religions and men and women of good will work together in harmony to embrace the opportunities and confront the challenges posed by the digital revolution and thus hand on to future generations a world of greater solidarity, justice and peace.”

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