NEW YEAR MESSAGE 2018 from the Bishop of Banjul The Most Reverend Robert P. Ellison from the Catholic Church

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

1.         On New Year’s Day, our Catholic community celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It occurs just one week after we celebrate the Birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Each Year, on the first day of January, we celebrate a World Day of Peace at the request of the United Nations.

This year, we also celebrate a Year for the World Day of the Poor which was launched by Pope Francis in Rome on the 19th November, 2017. The aim of this is to appeal to the consciences of believers, sensitizing them to the many cries of the poor all over the world. The motto chosen for this year is: ‘Love not in word but in deed’. It has been chosen, in the light of the Pope’s concern for the future of a world in which we all live as one Human Family.

Pope Francis’ recent visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh shocked him to find that there is a ‘group of human beings’ which seems to belong to no land whatever in this world! What disturbed him most was that he returned to Rome helpless from his visit.

2.         When God created the world, He saw that all He had made was good. Then he made man in his own likeness – male and female: with freedom and understanding. In this way, man was to be responsible to ensure that God’s gracious gifts would be shared equally among our one Human Family.

But….something happened one day in the Garden of Eden when man ate from the one fruit tree that was forbidden. Was it that God wanted to test man for that gift of freedom? He was given EVERYTHING that was good and beautiful. But man could not resist the one tree that God asked him NOT to eat. And so, from that moment, Adam and Eve knew that they had disobeyed God. They had broken their relationship with God.

Today, we all have to pay a price among all of our ancestors. It is what we call the ‘original sin’: greed, selfishness, disobedience….

Right up to our own time, it has spread like a forest fire. The clock is ticking away. Who will speak for the voiceless? Who will speak for the helpless? For the children of our own day?

3.         We thank you Lord for the gift of our Gambia, in spite of its many needs, relative to other countries which have been destroyed from war. However, among ourselves, the diversity that exists between the urban centres and the rural areas is very different. Once again, we are reminded by Pope Francis to celebrate a World Day of the Poor this year according to the circumstances of each Diocese or Parish. Some time ago, I can remember one week-end when members of the Cathedral Parish visited the members of the Parish of Mary Mother of God in Soma. It was a typical experience: becoming aware of each other and the environment; exchanging gifts; coming to understand the situation of the out-stations of that Parish. Contact with Muslims. Aware of the poverty. All such experiences can gradually lead to a friendship. I have witnessed other urban parishes doing the same thing. It is more than giving money. By taking some time with them can help their dignity. The members of the Society of St. Paul in our Diocese have supported the very poor from year to year – listening to their troubles and needs. Such work is done irrespective of tribe, status or religion.

4.         The World Day of the Poor for this coming year 2018 is not tied up with any special topics or special plans. It is up to groups to prepare for needs or areas in the rural part of The Gambia. The Farmers have lost a lot of their produce during the 2017 season due to a poor rainfall. There might be many needy families ?

As we begin another New Year, 2018, we celebrate a World Day of Peace. But we also celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on the eighth day of the Birth of Jesus. She has given birth to Christ, the Prince of Peace. Let us turn our cares and concerns to Mary, Mother of Christ. She carried in her womb the child to be born in Bethlehem. When she arrived there, there was no room in any part of the City. Mary and Joseph had to find a cave outside Bethlehem where the child was born in a manger.

St. Francis of Assisi described this situation in three thoughts:  Simplicity was honoured; Poverty was exalted; Humility was praised.

5.         There was no ‘World Day of the Poor’ in those days! A little later, Joseph was told in a dream to take the child and his mother and to go quickly to Egypt because Herod wants to kill him. After some time, Herod died and Joseph was able to return to Nazareth with mother and child.

This is the story of a very young mother who had to endure during the first few months of her child’s birth – with the support only with a very faithful man, Joseph. And that child is called Emmanuel – God is with us. They travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt and back home in Nazareth on foot and with a donkey!

We are told by the Gospel of St. Luke: ‘That Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart’.

On this World Day of Peace, let us entrust ourselves to Mary, Queen of Peace and Mother of Christ.

And let us also keep in mind our Holy Father’s request: ‘What kind of a world to do we want to leave behind us: to those who will come after us? An our children who are growing up today? AMEN.

Source: Picture: Bishop Ellison