“I am humbled by … the courageous work of Trócaire to help traumatised victims and survivors of conflict … to the brave Irish UN peacekeepers and for the tremendous humanitarian work of our navy in the Mediterranean. I thank God for the work of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, the Father Peter McVerry Trust, the Simon Community and the Missionary Sisters of Charity who reach out to the marginalised … I encourage you during 2017 to consider offering some of your time and gifts to help a charitable outreach or voluntary organisation. Become ‘angels of mercy’ yourselves.” – Archbishop Martin
Back in September I had the privilege of leading 170 pilgrims from
Ireland on a journey of Christian solidarity to the Holy Land. One of
the highlights of our pilgrimage was to spend time with the Christian
community in Bethlehem and to meet with the Mayor of Bethlehem not far
from Manger Square.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built over the spot where
Christ was born, is currently undergoing a huge restoration project.
The interior was filled with scaffolding. Just a few months before our
visit the conservationists had discovered, underneath the plastered
walls, an ancient mosaic of an angel which had been covered up and
forgotten for centuries.
Our guide told us that the hidden angel’s
outstretched hand points to the very place where Mary gave birth to
In the Gospel stories about Christmas, the angels bring a message
which is, firstly, a message of joy and hope for the world; and,
secondly, it is a call to God’s people not to be afraid.
‘Do not be afraid’, the angel Gabriel says to Mary when he tells her that she is to come the mother of God’s son.
‘Do not be afraid’, Gabriel also tells Zechariah as he hears that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist.
‘Do not be afraid’, an angel tells the shepherds on the first
Christmas night, directing them to the town of David where they will
find a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in manger.
‘Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife’, an angel tells
Joseph in a dream; ‘because she has conceived what is in her, by the
The angels are God’s messengers and the message they bring is Good
News for the World; it is a message of joy, of goodwill; it is a cause
for rejoicing, a joy to be shared.
‘I bring you news of great joy’, the angel tells the shepherds.
‘Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; He is
Christ the Lord. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of
the heavenly host, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of goodwill’.
The angels’ joyful message is infectious. Luke tells us the
shepherds came away from the Nativity scene ‘glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen’.
As we gather at Christmas to share the joy of our Saviour’s birth, we
too are entrusted with Good News for the world. The final words of
Mass commission us to go out from here in peace, glorifying and praising
God by our lives. They encourage us to be, like the angels, messengers
of consolation, comfort and compassion to our broken and troubled
world. The Good News of Christianity is not to hidden or kept to
ourselves. It is for sharing, announcing and living.
The world yearns for a message of hope, peace and consolation.
Anyone following the news media in recent days cannot fail to be moved
by the sight of fellow human beings fleeing for their lives – from
Aleppo to Berlin, from Turkey to Egypt. Nearer home the plight of
people forced to live and sleep on the streets makes us thankful to have
a warm home, food on the table and a bed to rest in at night.
If Christmas is to be more than sentimentality, tinsel and lights,
then our Christmas worship should challenge us to go out and play our
part in making the world a better place. It is our task as followers of
the ‘Christ-child’, born the ‘Prince of Peace’, to carry his message of
hope to the world. Isaiah the prophet expresses so beautifully the
reason for our hope: ‘The people that walked in darkness has seen a
great light. On those who live in the land of the shadow of death a
light has shone. You have made their gladness greater, you have made
their joy increase’.
Our mission, then, is to bring the light of Christ into the shadows
and darkness of the world, to overcome evil by our witness to love and
to help restore hope and peace to our families, communities and world.
Thankfully, we have many examples of Irish people who are such
messengers of hope. I am heartened by the courageous work of Trócaire
as it engages with its partners in Syria and Iraq to help traumatised
victims and survivors of conflict. I send good wishes this Christmas to
the brave Irish UN peacekeepers in Lebanon and other troubled places,
and I salute the tremendous humanitarian work of our navy which has
helped to rescue thousands of migrants from the Mediterranean.
God for the outreach of members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society,
the Father Peter McVerry Trust, the Simon Community and many others who
go out of their way to raise awareness and directly support people who
have nowhere to call home. Here in Armagh I admire greatly the work of
the Missionary Sisters of Charity who gently reach out to the
marginalised from their convent and hostel not far from our Cathedral
The people of Ireland continue to be extremely generous to charitable
agencies. As well as those who offer financial help, I am humbled by
the many people in our communities who give their time and talents
voluntarily to the wonderful work of mercy.
In recent days I have met
people who prepare food parcels, volunteer at soup kitchens, visit
elderly or lonely neighbours, write Christmas messages of encouragement
to those who feel isolated or unloved. I encourage you during 2017 to
consider offering some of your time and gifts to help a charitable
outreach or voluntary organisation. Become ‘angels of mercy’
yourselves. Angels are not meant to be covered or hidden like that
ancient Bethlehem angel in the Church of the Nativity.
Today a Saviour has been born for us! That Good News is intended to
be shared, given away, multiplied and spread so that people everywhere
can walk in the light of Christ, and the darkness of evil can be
Happy Christmas and God bless you all. Amen.