Hopes and challenges for the New Year

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As we begin this New Year, I thought I would share with you some of the hopes and challenges that religious leaders propose for our reflection. Pope Francis warned the world that it is becoming more “cold and calculating” and lacking in compassion. He said that those with “narcissist hearts” suffer the loss of the “ties that bind us, so typical of our fragmented and divided culture, increases this sense of orphanhood and, as a result, of great emptiness and loneliness.”

He lamented, “the lack of physical, not virtual, contact” that “is cauterizing our hearts and making us lose the capacity for tenderness and wonder, for pity and compassion.” He added, “The New Year will be good in the measure in which each of us, with the help of God, tries to do good, day by day, that’s how peace is created.”

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, proclaimed 2017 as the “Year of Protection of the Sacredness of Childhood” and urged the world to respect the rights and privacy of children. He said, “Unfortunately, the Gospel of Christmas is once again proclaimed to a world where the racket of weapons is heard, where unprovoked violence against individuals and peoples is enacted, and where inequality and social injustice prevail. It is unbearable to witness the state of countless children, victims of military conflict, irregular situations, manifold exploitations, persecutions and discriminations, as well as hunger, poverty and painful dispossession.”

He shared that he was calling for the faithful this year to reflect on the sacredness of childhood. “in light of the global refugee crisis that especially affects the rights of children, in light of the plague of child mortality, hunger and child labor, child abuse and psychological violence, as well as the dangers of altering children’s souls through their uncontrolled exposure to the influence of contemporary electronic means of communication and their subjugation to consumerism.”

Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Worldwide Communion, made remarks in conjunction with the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union widely known as Brexit, a portmanteau of “British” and “exit.”

He said, “Last year we made a decision that will profoundly affect the future of our country — a decision made democratically by the people. The EU referendum was a tough campaign and it has left divisions. But I know that if we look at our roots, our culture and our history in the Christian tradition, if we reach back into what is best in this country, we will find a path towards reconciling the differences that have divided us.”

He added, “If we’re welcoming to those in need, if we’re generous in giving, if we take hold of our new future with determination and courage, then we will flourish. Living well together despite our differences, offering hospitality to the stranger and those in exile, with unshakable hope for the future – these are the gifts, the commands and the promise of Jesus Christ.”

Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Martin Junge, shared his New Year message with the challenge to member churches to seek inspiration from the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year. His message was primarily delivered to the 145 churches in global communion comprising the LWF. He challenged the churches “to be focused on the message of salvation by grace through faith alone and to bear witness to God’s gift of compassion to a world struggling with conflict and alienation so that the churches become witnesses to God’s transforming power.”

He added, “I pray that God’s spirit be with each of the LWF member churches in this special year with its specific call to witness.”

He called on the LWF to uphold three principles for the Reformation anniversary: “The Reformation is a global citizen, ecumenical accountability and the Reformation is ongoing. As we commemorate the anniversary of the Reformation we should seize the opportunity to discern God’s call into mission in today’s world.”

As we begin this New Year we can hear in each of the leaders’ messages the need to witness to a world that is often cold and uncaring with the life giving word and loving presence of Jesus Christ. He is the answer to all our needs, he is the source of all peace, hope and justice for the human community.

May you all be blessed in this New Year with happiness, good health and spiritual wellbeing.

Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.