Cardinal Keith O'Brien has issued the following New Year Message: "As we come to the end of one year and look forward to the start of another, the dark days of winter can seem to overwhelm us. As 2011 approaches, it does not seem like a full ten years since the joy and hope of the new millennium. As we look over these past ten years or so there seems to have been an ebbing from a high tide of hope. Many of us remember the coming of our new Scottish Parliament, of the Jubilee Campaign, of the Millennium Development Goals, and of Make Poverty History. All of these movements were propelled by the highest ideals and the prospect of a better world for each and every one of us then as we were began the Third Millennium.
Yet rather than being inspired over the past ten years, in many ways we have seemed to lurch as a society from one disaster to another. Without wishing to be too pessimistic, I know that each and every one of you at times must feel a certain despondency when you consider the world in which we live now compared to the world in which we would like to live.
In our own society amidst great plenty, 21% of our pensioners and one quarter of our children live in relative poverty; while 10% of working age adults in Scotland live in absolute poverty. More pervasive than these damning statistics are the levels of spiritual and moral poverty, which afflict us, leaving only a minority of our population actively, involved in the practice of their religious beliefs.
Many feel powerless and helpless in the face of national and global challenges they cannot overcome. Visiting the Jericho House centre in Edinburgh in recent weeks, I saw something of that helplessness, as those who had nowhere else to turn ate a hot meal in a warm hall. Some, among those gathered in that crowd maybe selling their bodies to buy drugs; others may be stealing to feed themselves or their children; one young man suffering from AIDS asked why it was wrong to commit suicide when his own mother had done so at the age of 44. At times, such darkness can surround us all.
Yet even when engulfed by darkness there is always hope. Throughout August, September and the beginning of October for a total of 69 days, 33 miners in Chile were trapped over half a mile beneath the desert in the San Jose mine. In darkness and often in pain for those 69 days they did not see the light of day. They did however see the light of God.
During that time they had a key spiritual leader; Jose Henriquez, one of the miners, who became the group’s unofficial pastor. He insisted that the escape was a miracle of answered prayer and that all the men had found faith or grown in faith during their ordeal.
Jose Henriquez requested that 33 miniature copies of the Bible be sent down the rescue borehole and he organised twice daily bible studies and prayer times, the only regular times all the men met together. Many were Catholic, and some of them had lapsed; a handful were evangelical Christians; and a few had no faith at all.
Henriquez said: “I communicated the words of the Gospel and the seed was planted. The Holy Spirit was there. He was ministering to us, reconciling us, healing us…. We were soon to praise the Lord, we were doing what pleased the Lord. So everyone accepted him, some of us made promises to him”.
The miner’s situation has a relevance to our own lives today. Sadly for many the black holes of life are still dark places where they continue to feel trapped or lost with no way out. We must see those who are being engulfed by darkness, who do not know where to turn, and make some response to their cries for help.
I would suggest that what we need at this present time is a greater desire to work together; we require a belief in high principles; we must indeed keep going on our journey; and hope is essential always.
God, community, family, friends, all matter so much – and miracles happen daily. We need the positive good news; and we must feed ourselves with hope and spread it. Empowered by this belief in the light we should face the New Year with hope and promise knowing that the human spirit when illuminated by the light of God can never be diminished."