Peace Sunday statement from Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue

 The Bishop of Lancaster, Rt Rev Patrick O'Donoghue has issued the following statement for Peace Sunday (16 January). The New Year presents us with the opportunity to reflect on the old year, learn from our successes and failures and resolve to do better in the future. But 2005 could not have begun in a worse way, with the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that left a trail of destruction, a grim and ever-increasing death toll and large swaths of the Asian coastline effectively destroyed. According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), the number dead stands at 150,000; almost a third are said to be women and children. Millions have also been left homeless, destitute and traumatised. The United Nations Children's Fund is concerned about the fate of children orphaned in the disaster. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 500,000 people spread over six countries are in urgent need of medical care. Tourists from the UK and around the world have also been affected by this terrible tragedy. According to governments in the region and OCHA the death toll is likely to rise. Many believe we will never know the true numbers of those who perished; neither will we know the true extent of the social, economic and environmental devastation wrought by the tsunami for a long while yet. However, what we do know is that countries in the region will continue to need solidarity and support to meet the immediate and long terms needs of their people, as indeed for reconstruction and development. In his World Day of Peace message (1 January 2005) Pope John Paul had a timely message for all: "As a member of the human family, each person becomes as it were a citizen of the world, with consequent duties and rights, since all human beings are united by a common origin and the same supreme destiny.. the provision of aid to displaced persons and refugees, and the mobilisation of international solidarity towards all the needy are nothing other than consistent applications of the principle of world citizenship." (para. 6). The recent Government proposal for the Paris Club/G8 to agree a one-year moratorium on debt repayment by countries affected by the tsunami, though welcome, is not enough. I support the call of aid agencies that rich nations should cancel all debts owed to them by the tsunami affected countries, and this should only be a start to other policy initiatives needed for immediate and long term development needs. It is hoped that these needs will be addressed at the tsunami donors' conference in Indonesia. I pay tribute to the enormous spiritual and material generosity of the British people. Such positive attitudes confirm for me that they understand the correct response to the biblical question "who is my neighbour?" I am convinced the British people will continue to support the Disasters Emergency Committee and the government in their efforts to bring relief and development to the countries and peoples affected by the tsunami. I ask for your continued prayers for all those who have lost loved ones and those now coming to terms with the tragedy and struggling to survive. There is so much that peace-loving people here and worldwide would love to see done differently. This month the UK assumed the presidency of the G8 and in July 2005 will assume the presidency of the EU. This unique political conjuncture gives the government a chance to use its influence to tackle the root causes of poverty and conflicts around the world. It is clear that the combined impacts of unfair trading practices, the debt burden, inadequate aid, or aid conditional on privatisation, are having a devastating effect on the world's poorest countries. There is no reason why unfair trade rules cannot be dismantled to allow poor countries to compete fairly in the global market; why rich countries cannot set a binding timetable for allocating 0.7% of GNP for aid; why the debt of the poorest countries cannot be cancelled outright; why more aid cannot be given to countries devastated by the AIDS epidemic; why 12 million people should remain as refugees or displaced. One can also question the need for a new Africa Commission when rigorous analysis and solutions about Africa's problems, already exist. As I see it, it is time to act and that is why I support the Make Poverty History - Coalition's demand for policies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. I believe the UK is a major player in all these matters, not simply a spectator. Finally, I pray for the realisation of a viable state for the Palestinian peoples and for an end to the occupation of Iraq so that credible international support through the UN can be mobilised for its self determination and reconstruction - the two issues crucial in the bringing of peace to the Holy Land and the Middle East. Once again the Holy Father was to highlight these in his New Year message: "the dangerous situation of Palestine, the land of Jesus, where the fabric of mutual understanding, torn by a conflict which is fed daily by acts of violence and reprisal, cannot yet be mended in justice and truth. And what of the troubling phenomenon of terrorist violence, which appears to be driving the whole world towards a future of fear and anguish! Finally, how can we not think with profound regret of the drama unfolding in Iraq, which has given rise to tragic situations of uncertainty and insecurity for all?" (para. 4) Let us hope and pray that the New Year brings lasting change for those suffering inequality, injustice, displacement and persecution throughout the world. Each one of us, under God, has a role to play in bringing this about. Rt Rev Patrick O'Donoghue Bishop of Lancaster

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