As we move from the shadows of Covid-19 and our necessary adjustments to what was required, may I, as President of Ireland, mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, send you my warmest wishes for a peaceful and a Happy Christmas and New Year.
I do so as the spectre of war once again hangs over our continent with all its consequences for those its victims, those lost, injured, displaced. To those who have sought refuge with us and for whom this may be their first Christmas in Ireland, may I extend a warm welcome. May your Christmas be a one of peace and hope.
We Irish can understand the experience of Christmas far from home. At the turn of the last century, over half of the people who had been born in Ireland were living abroad. This fact, along with the emigration that was to follow during the early decades of the Irish State, have shaped us profoundly as a people – we can, through the experience of our own ancestors, know what it is to be the migrant, to be displaced.
For many of us, Christmas is a time for gathering with family, friends and community, of sharing in some longstanding traditions and reflecting on the precious, shared memories that have defined Christmases past.
This Christmas will be a particularly special one for many, as once more, and having moved beyond our necessary Covid restrictions, they can come together as groups and families, and also welcome loved ones home – from among the many Irish who are scattered across the globe.
In the midst of our renewed celebrations, it is important that we reflect on the place where we now find ourselves in our post-Covid circumstance, asking ourselves how we can make best use of our experience – have we as a society arrived at a better place, a new way of living founded on a genuine sense of the collective so generously demonstrated during the pandemic?
Christmas is a time to renew our commitments to justice. In his ground-breaking encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis, for example, speaks of a “culture of indifference”, including how such a “culture of indifference” relates to climate change, a pandemic, of ignoring global issues, global hunger, migrant deaths, increasing militarism, and he challenges us all not to avert our gaze from all those who suffer in different ways on our shared planet.
His encyclical speaks of the need to “care for our common home” and constitutes a call to action to protect all life on our vulnerable planet through the forging of better connections between ecology, economics and ethics. We must look to ourselves and to our institutions as to how we are answering such calls as his.
Christmas is a time too to fortify and strengthen the intimacies of our lives, and may I suggest that we all make an effort to extend its joy and spirit of goodwill throughout the year. As we do so, those of us fortunate enough to be celebrating the intimacies of Christmas in our homes must bear in mind those without a home whose circumstances are the responsibility of us all.
Indeed, as we reflect on the Christmas parable, which is above all a story of the vulnerable seeking refuge, let us all, in our role as global citizens, stand in solidarity with those who are vulnerable, put ourselves in the shoes of the ‘Other’ – have thought of the more than 100 million forcibly displaced across the globe, including those experiencing the horrific consequences of war in Ukraine, and elsewhere, those experiencing hunger in the Horn of Africa, itself a direct result of climate change, to which those suffering hunger contributed so little, yet overwhelmingly bear its destructive consequences. Let us be mindful of those in extreme poverty, and the many individuals and families at home and abroad struggling to make ends meet owing to the cost-of-living crisis.
Let our thoughts and our solidarity, too, be with the brave women and men protesting against the suppression and humiliation of women which exists in so many parts of the world, and offer our solidarity and support to those who are calling for an end to gender violence at home and abroad.
May I, in a special way, extend my sympathies this Christmas to the people of Creeslough and all who were bereaved by the terrible tragedy visited on that close-knit community which I had the privilege of visiting at a time of tragedy and grief. I hope this coming year will bring you some space for healing and that, along with your profound sadness, your loved ones can be remembered with appreciation by you for all that was shared with them, your lives together.
May I thank all those who will continue to care for our communities throughout the Christmas season. We are deeply grateful to those who work in our hospitals and emergency services, the volunteers who will be attending to the needs of the homeless, the vulnerable and the marginalised, and to all those who so generously give up so much of their Christmas to the needs of others.
May I thank those members of our Defence Forces who will be overseas this Christmas building and supporting peace in many of the more than 60 regions across the world that are currently experiencing conflict, including conflict zones so near the homeland of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate at this time, and where efforts and peace-making is in such short supply, where suffering and exclusion is deepening. May I assure the women and men of our Defence Forces that your sacrifices for peace are greatly appreciated by the people of Ireland.
In recent weeks we have, across the country, been turning on the Christmas lights which bring such joy and pleasure to our towns and villages, our homes and workplaces. During these darkest days of mid-winter, as we prepare to bid farewell to 2022, they illuminate our days and remind us of the importance of resilience, at the dawning of a new year that we should all face with a renewed sense of hope and optimism.
As we look towards seasons of renewal and flourishing, let us do so in solidarity, resolving to craft together a shared future defined by compassion, care, inclusion and equality, a society whose values embody the vision of the brave men and women who helped to realise the foundation of our Republic and whose centenary we continue to mark.
May I wish each and every one of you, wherever you may be, a peaceful and happy Christmas.
Nollaig Shona daoibh go léir, is beir gach beannacht d’on bliain nua is d’on todchaí.