The past year has been a difficult one for many people. Hardship has been a common experience, here at home and abroad.
Financial pressures continue to bite, despite apparent improvement in the economies north and south. Too many young people have been unable to find work; many have emigrated. We have had crisis at Stormont. A climate agreement was reached in Paris only weeks after the city suffered an appalling massacre by jihadists. And the Syrian refugee crisis exploded into public consciousness after the lifeless body of an infant was washed up on a Mediterranean beach.
Ironically, despite all the anxiety and gloom that 2015 brought, I actually find myself looking forward to a new year with greater optimism than for many years.
For months now, parish teams have been preparing plans for 2016, which has been designated a Year of Opportunity in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe. We are focusing on three themes: mission, generosity and children. So far, the plans have been imaginative, creative, even visionary. I am confident they will go a long way towards realising our diocesan vision, ‘Transforming community, radiating Christ’.
One of the things which has most buoyed me on visits to the Diocese’s 50 parishes has been the spirit of generosity I have found. Nowhere has that been more evident than in the response to the refugee crisis.
While governments have argued over how many refugees they’re prepared to accept and the kind of assistance they’re prepared to offer, ordinary people in parishes throughout the diocese have been eager to respond to Christ’s words in Matthew’s Gospel: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in”.
I have witnessed that same generosity among members of other Christian Churches, as well as in people of other faiths and none.
I pray that that spirit will be apparent when the first refugees arrive in this diocese. I pray that it will be evident in our support for agencies dealing with the crisis on the ground in Syria and neighbouring states. I pray, too, that it will be obvious in our giving towards those who are less fortunate here at home.
2016 will be a challenging year, but it is also going to be a year of opportunity for all of us: there will be opportunities to recognise and respond to our common humanity; opportunities to discover that it is better to give than to receive; opportunities – for all Christians – to transform community and radiate Christ. I pray that we will all rise to the exciting possibilities of a year of opportunity.
A happy and peaceful New Year to all.
Rt Rev Ken Good
Bishop of Derry and Raphoe