Last year brought grief, anxiety and uncertainty, as well as economic loss and disruption of livelihoods, Church leaders in Ireland stated.
They also noted that this new year, 2021, marks the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland and of the partition of the island of Ireland.
While acknowledging it was a year marked by loss, upset plans, postponed celebrations and dreams, as well as threatened livelihoods, bishops nevertheless urged people to look back at what was good.
In his new year message, the leader of the Irish Church, Archbishop Eamon Martin, said the memory he will cherish of 2020 is how the power of love and care was able to overcome isolation, loneliness, suffering, despair and negativity.
“I will treasure a ‘2020 vision’ of goodness, kindness, generosity and courage shown by neighbours, volunteers, doctors, nurses, chaplains and other carers; by teachers, shop-workers, clergy and so many others who devoted themselves to keeping our essential services going.”
He said their “amazing ‘works of mercy’ were concrete expressions of the compassion, love and hope of Christ ringing out in our communities and world”.
Referring to Pope Francis’ call in his Message for World Day of Peace for the building a “culture of care” as the only way to overcome the great challenges of today, Archbishop Martin said creating a culture of care meant listening for the cry of the poor and the cry of creation and never reducing people to mere statistics.
Instead, “we love them as our neighbours, our brothers and sisters. We are moved to showing tenderness and compassion for those in our world who suffer the worst effects of Covid-19 or climate change and yet who have least access to water and other resources, to quality health services and life-saving vaccines.”
The Primate of All Ireland said the past year had brought about the realisation that as a human family sharing this planet, we are interconnected and interdependent.
“Building a ‘culture of care’ will encourage us to continue to make sacrifices, to wear face coverings, cancel plans and celebrations when necessary to protect life, to keep a safe distance in order to promote the common good.”
The new year bells, the Archbishop of Armagh said, called people to face with faith, hope and love, what is likely to be another difficult year in tackling the Coronavirus.
He noted that 2021 also marks the centenary of a year that led to increased separation, discord and polarisation of relationships on the island of Ireland.
“2021 will bring its own new challenges to relationships and prosperity arising from the implementation of Brexit,” he cautioned and said this was all the more reason “for us to commit to looking out for each other, developing greater mutual understanding and to building that culture of care, tenderness and compassion that will be our sure compass and guide along the Path of Peace.”
In a joint message, representatives of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodists, Catholic and the Irish Council of Churches, said many people were hoping for a brighter and safer future in 2021.
The pandemic of 2020 had brought grief, anxiety and uncertainty, as well as economic loss and disruption of livelihoods. “Many aspects of life that we had taken for granted, like visiting loved ones in nursing homes, or popping in to a see a friend, suddenly changed.”
The church leaders – the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Catholic Primate of All Ireland and the President of the Irish Council of Churches paid tribute to the actions of frontline workers who they said had “sacrificially gone about their business” as well as to those who delivered groceries for neighbours self-isolating, or had sewn scrubs or kept in touch with others by phone.
They highlighted how as 2021 begins, “we will face new challenges and opportunities” and said the changes which Brexit will bring demanded a commitment to working together in constructive ways and the building of relationships across and between Britain and Ireland.
Recognising that people will approach the centenary from a variety of perspectives, they acknowledged that “for some this is a cause for celebration, others will look upon the last century with a sense of loss and separation.
“For us, as Church leaders, the centenary opens up opportunities for greater understanding of each other, for further healing and reconciliation between our communities. This centenary also provides the opportunity for us to reflect together on the failings of relationships and use of violence across the whole island which have marred our past and which in some ways continue to cast a shadow on the present.”
They committed themselves to building a future together in which historic mistrust and division becomes a thing of the past.
In his New Year’s message, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick noted that a lot of humorous WhatsApp messages have been circulating in recent days cheering the end of a year which has been “one of the worst in living memory for most of us”.
He recalled the pain of lockdowns and isolation, the cost to people’s mental health as well as the domestic violence, job losses and educational disruption. There had also been restrictions around sacraments, including funerals and weddings.
While there was still so much work to do in overcoming Covid there was “light at the end of the tunnel,” with the vaccine being rolled out, he stressed.
Bishop Leahy also highlighted how long ago in Ireland, people opened the doors in the house on New Year’s Eve to let out the old year and usher in the new.
“Yes, we need to let this year out quickly. But while there is much we will want to let out, let’s not let every Covid thing out,” he suggested and added that because of what people had lived through in 2020, “as we head into 2021 our world has a much keener sense that it needs to take care of itself. It also has realised just how much caring can be placed at the heart of political discourse and, for all of us, just how important it is to show particular priority care for the vulnerable.”
Referring to Pope Francis’ 2021 World Peace Day message and his call for a culture of care, the Bishop of Limerick appealed to people to promote a culture of care of one another, starting with the most vulnerable. The core priority had to be to protect the weakest, those most vulnerable to the virus.
“Imagine what we could achieve as a nation if we applied this throughout society, viewing our public policy through the eyes of the vulnerable and those on the margins.
“May we never forget this experience of the year when vulnerability was neither ignored nor superficially dealt with. We saw need – we rushed to respond; we recognised mistakes – we remedied them; we recognised the cost – we were prepared to make sacrifices. This has to be a template for us going forward.”
He said collective effort had been a hallmark of last year. “It shows us that when our generous social capital, altruistic political will and shared resources come together we can tackle issues and make a difference.”