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New Year Message 2009 from Bishop Robert Ellison of Roman Catholic Mission

Jan 5, 2009, 8:36 AM

New Year Message 2009 from Bishop Robert Ellison of Roman Catholic Mission

A. The end of one year and the beginning of another is usually a time to look back to what has been and to look forward to what can be.

To look back or not to look back - that is the question! If we avoid looking back, we can be accused of failing to learn from the past - and that includes both the positive as well as the negative things. I am not going to attempt such an exercise right now; but I do believe it is something that we should try to do even briefly - looking at the wider world, our own country, our own families/ communities and our own personal lives. They are all interconnected.

To look forward to what can be or should be possible is also an important exercise.

That I presume is one of the reasons for giving a New Year message. And it should include more than anything else - message of hope.

B. The prophet Joel, inspired by God, spoke as follows: 'I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind. Your old people shall dream dreams and your young people shall see visions."

It's important to dream, to try to imagine how, for example, we can help in some small way to make the world a better world. 'I have a dream'. These words have been immortalised by Martin L. King. The dream was a clear vision of where he wanted to take his people; calling them from bondage to freedom. It was almost like another Exodus event. Not all are called in this way to leaders. But all are called to make their own contribution to its realisation.

Another great visionary of our own time is Nelson Mandela. In just a few short sentences he described his life's journey as 'The Long Walk to Freedom'.

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes about the mystery hidden for all ages in God and which now has been made known to us in Christ. It is the dream or vision of God's plan for the world and the mission of the Church in that plan: to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.

In October next year, there will be a Special Assembly for Bishops in African. The theme of this assembly will be: 'The Church in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace in Africa'. The main purpose of this Synod therefore will be to highlight the role of the Church in helping to bring about reconciliation in the continent of Africa at this particular moment in its history.

C. Faith in the one God, the Creator and Lord of all life, is a supreme religious value or asset among the peoples of The Gambia. Christians also believe that reconciliation is not possible without the help of God - whether it be personal or social reconciliation. We can learn certain skills and strategies to help us at a human level to work towards reconciliation, to bring about unity and peace. But ultimately these gifts come from God. And when we open our hearts to him, then we can begin to at justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly in His presence.

Those who have worked in the ministry of reconciling communities where there is conflict would say that the great moments of breakthrough often come 'as a surprise'. They happen unexpectedly. Believers would call it the work of God.

How could a man like Nelson Mandela emerge unscathed after 27 years in prison to become the leader of his country without seeking revenge of any kind?

Forty years ago, Martin Luther King shared his dream for the future of his people in the U.S.A. That dream is no longer merely a dream. The election of the new President-elect of the U.S.A. marks a decisive step forward in the relisation of that dream. And it would seem that this has generated a new sense of hope not just for the peoples of the U.S.A., but also for many other countries around the world.

D. The virtue of hope calls us to be more sensitive to what is emerging in our world than to what is disappearing, and to discern and nurture the little seeds of that future that are already growing in the present.

Here in The Gambia, there is a growing concern about the drift of young people from the rural to the urban areas. Efforts are being made to reverse this trend; there are calls to encourage these young people to go back to the land. But sometimes it seems futile or hopeless.

However, efforts are being made in various places. During a recent visit to Bwiam, I had the opportunity to meet with the staff of St. Joseph's Family Farms. This is a project of the Catholic Church that began there twenty years in an attempt to slow down the flow of young people from this area to the Kombos. This vision or dream is now gradually unfolding thanks to the staff and donors who provide them with skills and opportunities to work on the land and enjoy a reasonable standard of living for themselves and their families. To date, more than 80 young farmers have benefited from this centre in this way.

Let us pray:

- May our dreams help us to see more clearly our own journey in the year 2009 as a journey of hope and peace in solidarity with out brothers and sisters.

- May our God be someone to whom we can turn in our weak and painful moments. May He be our rock, our shelter and our strength.

May we develop the gift of reverence for all created things as well as a sense of responsibility and care for the beauty of the earth.