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Christmas Message 2023 from the Bishops of Cork

Bishop Paul Colton & Bishop Fintan Gavin.
Bishop Paul Colton & Bishop Fintan Gavin.

We send greetings to the people of faith in our city and county of Cork this Christmas: may you be filled with the hope which Christ brings. And we greet all people of good will, wishing you peace and joy always.

Peace is the gift most conspicuously lacking this Christmas. The images from the Middle East on the nightly news are horrifying. In Gaza, men, women and children are starving, wounded, living in fear for their lives. These innocent civilians suffer as did the victims of Hamas’ October 7th invasion of Israel. There seems no end in sight to the pain of the innocents.

The images from Gaza are like those that have been beamed from Ukraine for the past 21 months, since the Russian invasion began. Innocent civilians there seek to get out of the way of the invading forces and those lethal nightly bombing raids.

The invasion of Ukraine has had effects closer to home for us too. Refugees from that war travel across Europe looking for a safe refuge, with some arriving in Ireland. Across Europe the challenge of welcoming refugees has seen politics swing from centrist parties to the extremes. In Ireland, the recent Dublin riots reflected a trend towards violent extremism.

An absence of peace is not the only lack the world suffers. As pastors, we are aware of many other ills plaguing our people. The shortage of homes impacts on many in our congregations, and we can never forget the homeless men, women and children on our streets. Financial pressures also afflict many families, with more and more finding it hard to make ends meet, as charities such as the Cork Penny Diners and St Vincent de Paul Society – among many – regularly report.

All these external pressures afflict people inwardly also, causing much anxiety and stress. To these ills, add the loneliness afflicting many older people — and the not–so–old also. Social media often leave people isolated and even more vulnerable.

In the face of all these challenges, Christians might be tempted to give up. But we never do. We pray for deeper faith and meaning in those who search for it, for harmony and peace for all, even when it seems to be slow in coming. And we work for justice and compassion, as the Christ whom we serve keeps whispering challenging words in our ears: “When I was hungry, you fed me … when I was a stranger, you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35ff)”. We have no option but to try to put these challenging words into action, particularly by welcoming strangers and making sure they feel at home in our midst.

We do not give up when our prayers seem to be in vain. For we know that, behind the scenes, in a divine and mysterious way, the Spirit calls even the most belligerent fighters to thoughts of peace, working patiently and delicately to end wars everywhere.

The work of peace includes the work of aid agencies, seeking to help those who suffer in war–torn lands – to bring light inn the midst of darkness. Their efforts to provide a safe–haven for refugees from the war in the Holy Land is a sad echo of the flight into Egypt by the Holy Family with the new–born Christ child.

The Holy Family knows, and we know, that war is not about abstract principles and rights — it’s deeplypersonal. Every person left dead or injured belongs to a family whose life is forever changed. Remembering this too increases the pressure on believers never to abandon their work for peace.

The birth of Christ, which is the true heart of Christmas, is a call to each of us to renew our respect for the dignity and life of every person on earth, irrespective of their state of health or life. Only in this way will we lay strong foundations for a peace that will last.

As you journey through the Christmas season and into the New Year, our prayer for you is that you will be blessed with the peace of Christ in your life, the greatest gift of all — and that this will spur you on, to share in the work for “peace on earth and goodwill to all”.

+Fintan Gavin
Bishop of Cork and Ross

+Paul Colton
Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

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