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Beginning with hope

In their Christmas messages, both the Catholic and Anglican bishops of Hong Kong spoke of a growing selfishness in society, while Pope Benedict XVI named pride as being at the root of all evil in the world.

In the run up to Christmas, traditionally a time of putting things right and making peace with those with whom we have been at odds, Christians in a variety of localities around the world prepared for Christmas in an almost clandestine manner, so as not to aggravate the wrath of those who persecute them.

Churches were bombed in Nigeria and in Iraq, celebrations were cancelled at some places for fear of suicide bomb threats, made more realistic by a spate of attacks in the days leading up to the feast.

We are coming out of a year in which we saw high profile martyrs, Father Fausto Tentorio in The Philippines and Shahbaz Bhatti, a government minister, in Pakistan. Also in Pakistan, a Catholic woman accused of blasphemy and condemned to death, Asia Bibi, remains in prison, in an increasingly frail condition.

Bibi has been a great witness to the suffering Church during her long wait for death. She has refused to condemn those who persecute her, but rather prayed for their welfare and asked God to touch and enlighten their hearts.

The Church in China continues to struggle with a restrictive government, as well as with its own internal divisions, and Catholics in parts of India have also been the victims of government attacks and the slander campaigns of local authorities.

A number of priests and other Catholic people, as well as community workers and human rights advocates from Hong Kong have also been refused entry into the mainland, made all the harder as those who can suffer most are those they were destined to visit.

There has been religious persecution of Buddhists in Tibet, as well as the Union of Myanmar, and in the west we have seen increasing limitations placed on freedom of religious expression, albeit in far more subtle ways.

These experiences make the words of the first reading spoken to Moses, at a time when his people were in slavery, all the more relevant as we begin another year, with the hope of making all things new again.

“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites and I will bless them.”

The beginning of a year is a time when we are asked to truly believe and have strong faith, as it is a time when we are called to hold our hope in the promises of salvation dear.

Our new year resolutions can be wider than cleaning up our own act a bit and extend to what we can do for others, as we can never know how far our small acts of kindness may travel.