The Most Reverend Dr John Buckley and the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton
As the season of Christmas approaches, as Bishops of Cork, we pray that God will bless all of you during the forthcoming feast and the year ahead.
Our celebrations this year take place against the background of fear and instability following terrorist attacks in Paris, war throughout the Middle East, and heightened international tensions as a result. We remember especially all victims of violence and war.
The Christmas message of the angels was a promise of ‘peace on earth.’ Jesus Christ is ‘the Prince of Peace.’ In his name we are all called to work for peace, starting with ourselves in our own place and among our neighbours. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, asks us to love our neighbour. This is not simply about ‘the person next door’ or someone we already know. In Christianity ‘our neighbour’ is often the person we do not know, a stranger, and someone we see as very different from ourselves. Understanding this is the beginning of peace-making. It is also the starting point for our reflection about how we approach one of the main human tragedies spilling over from the Middle East: refugees from war and asylum seekers – our neighbours – who seek to live among us in peace and security.
The events of that first Christmas put the predicament of refugees firmly before us as we celebrate. The Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus are marked by journeys. The people of that region in those days were on the move for a census ordered by Caesar Augustus. The shortage of accommodation resulted, ultimately, in Christ being born at the stable, because no one made room anywhere else. The shepherds came from the hillside to Bethlehem. The Magi travelled from the east and for their own safety had to return home by a different route. The Holy Family themselves had to escape, as refugees, to Egypt to avoid persecution and certain death for their baby boy.
As we prepare to welcome our neighbour from afar, such as those refugees who will be arriving in our own country, we are also challenged to engage with the poverty, homelessness, sub-standard accommodation that many are living in, as well as the plight of those living in Direct Provision, here at home already.
As Bishops of Cork, we appeal once again to all Christians to reflect deeply on the meaning and practical challenges of the birth of the Prince of Peace, to apply the Christmas message to these human predicaments and every challenge humanity faces; in that way we keep Christ at the heart of Christmas.
We wish you peace, joy, warmth and happiness for the celebration of Our Saviour’s birth. As ever we will remember in prayer particularly those who have lost loved ones during the past year, especially those who have been touched by the tragedy of suicide.
May the star which lit up the sky at the birth of Christ shine the light of hope and peace on you all this Christmas and always.
+Paul Colton +John Buckley