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Pope Francis will visit Ireland in August this year for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Meeting of Families. In anticipation of the visit, Ireland’s church leaders have issued a joint New Year message in which they call for “renewed efforts to protect vulnerable families from hardship, across the island of Ireland and throughout the world, in 2018.” The message has been signed by Archbishop Richard Clarke, the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop of Armagh and Anglican Primate; Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Roman Catholic Church’s Archbishop of Armagh and Primate; and by the Revd Dr Laurence Graham, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland; Bishop John McDowell, President of the Irish Council of Churches; and the Rt Revd Noble McNeely, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
In it, the leaders say that they “add our voices to those calling for increased efforts to provide safety, security and protection for vulnerable families across the island of Ireland and throughout the world. Families are the essential building blocks of strong, resilient communities. Our experience in pastoral and social care underlines the centrality of family wellbeing to effective, long-term solutions to the major social challenges we face today.”
They express particular concern at the rising level of homelessness, which they describe as “one of the most tragic and glaring symptoms of a broken system that is leaving too many people without adequate support.”
“The protection of children, our future parents and future leaders, is one of the primary reasons for the existence of social welfare systems,” they say, “yet in the Republic of Ireland one in three of those living in emergency accommodation is a child. 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. Across the world, over the past year, the number of families displaced by conflict, persecution and destitution has continued to rise, placing the lives and futures of more children at risk.
“Families are the hope for the world. In our churches at Christmas time there is a particular emphasis on family as we come together to celebrate our appreciation for God’s gift of hope to a suffering world in the birth of Christ. We are reminded that God did not choose the wealthy and the powerful to be the protectors of his Son, but a family that was vulnerable, without a home and forced to rely on the kindness of strangers. It is deeply unfair that so many parents in our society today feel that they are failing because they cannot provide security for their children, and that many are reluctant to ask for help because of stigma and shame.”
The church leaders say that they recognise “the challenges faced by our political leaders in these uncertain times” but say that “we have a vocation to witness to the fact that the essential purpose of political leadership is to protect the common good. We appeal to [political leaders] to focus their efforts in this coming year on measures that will alleviate the hardship experienced by families near and far, restoring hope and preventing people being pushed to the margins of society.”
Speaking of the forthcoming visit by Pope Francis to the World Meeting of Families, they say: “As Christian churches we have taken the opportunity presented by this event to explore together how we can celebrate the importance of families to our churches and the wider community, recognising that our pastoral care of the family is an essential part of our contribution to society.
“We pray that the coming year will bring hope, joy and peace to all families who are struggling.”