THE Archbishops of Armagh are encouraging people to "be ready to share our safety and our reasons for hoping with others" in a joint Christmas message.
The following is the full Christmas message issued by Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, The Most Revd Eamon Martin and Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, The Most Revd Richard Clarke:
"A couple of weeks ago, we both travelled to Rome to meet with members of the Sant’Egidio Community and to experience at first hand – however briefly – some of the wonderful work that these remarkable Christian disciples are carrying out.
"Not only are members of the community working for reconciliation in many countries of the world, but they are also to be found among the dispossessed of Rome giving practical and material help.
"In more recent times they have been at the forefront of caring for – and taking responsibility for – refugees who have found their way (sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances) to Italy.
"It was in this context that we had the opportunity, one evening, to meet a number of these refugees – some from Syria and some from Eritrea.
"Three Eritrean girls, possibly still teenagers, had arrived in Rome only a few hours earlier, having been rescued from danger in Ethiopia by members of the Sant’Egidio Community.
"In conversation, we asked the girls how they were now feeling. One of them, with a sudden huge smile on her face, replied in just one word – “safe”.
"In the Old Testament God’s people were promised that if they trust in the Lord, they will find a place of rest, safety, security, a refuge and a reason for hope and confidence.
"The Christmas promise went deeper and further. To those who would put their trust in Him, Jesus came to offer spiritual safety – the reward of eternal salvation.
"Part of the challenge of Christmas is to seek to bring “safety”, in its widest sense, into the lives of those around us. There are people in our midst who are without the security of food or even of a roof over their heads.
"There are those who are newcomers to our country, perhaps of a different religious faith and culture, who feel that they are objects of suspicion and dislike.
"And there are also those whose need for security in their lives is less evident – those who are alone and afraid, those who are without friends and without people who will “look out for them”, and some who feel that their lives have become aimless or “useless”, almost empty of hope and confidence.
"In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Our Lord assures us that we meet him when we care for those who need us, whoever they may be.
"Christmas is a time when many of us are happy to have the emotional security and safety of our family and friends around us, and the comfort and assurance of strong faith in the birth of the Saviour. Let us be ready to share our safety and our “reasons for hoping” with others."