Archbishop urges rich to share pain in Christmas sermon

The archbishop says there is a "lasting sense that the most prosperous have yet to shoulder their load"

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has used his Christmas sermon to question whether the richest people are bearing their share of the economic downturn.

Dr Rowan Williams' comments amounted to a rebuke to the most prosperous in society, said BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott.

He also suggested Prince William's wedding in 2011 could help restore the popularity of life-long relationships.

The service took place at Canterbury Cathedral, in Kent.

Meanwhile in a sermon at York Minster, Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu also referred to victims of the economic crisis, including "those who have lost their jobs, savings, pensions [and] homes".

In his service Dr Williams spoke of the importance of mutual dependence, fellowship and loyalty in current economic times, stressing the need to share the burdens of adversity.

He said society could only bear hardship "if we are confident that it is being fairly shared."

Start Quote

As the prince and his fiancee get ready for their new step into solidarity together, they will have plenty of inspiration around”

End Quote Dr Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury

"We shall have that confidence only if there are signs that everyone is committed to their neighbour, that no-one is just forgotten, that no interest group or pressure group is able to opt out.

"That confidence isn't in huge supply at the moment, given the massive crises of trust that have shaken us all in the last couple of years and the lasting sense that the most prosperous have yet to shoulder their load," he added.

Citing Prime Minister David Cameron's "big society" concept, he said everyone had to be ready to meet that challenge, and to restore "mutual trust".

"It's no use being cynical about this; whatever we call the enterprise, the challenge is the same - creating confidence by sharing the burden of constructive work together," he said.

Royal celebration

The archbishop went on to refer to the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, in April 2011, and stressed that the Christian bond of marriage was a symbol of hope.

Dr Williams said it was "cause for celebration" that any couple should want to "embark on the adventure of Christian marriage".

"Every Christian marriage is a sign of hope, since it is a sign and sacrament of God's own committed love."

"And it would be good to think that in this coming year, we, as a society, might want to think through, carefully and imaginatively, why lifelong faithfulness and the mutual surrender of selfishness are such great gifts," he told worshippers.

Prince William and Kate Middleton Kate Middleton and Prince William will marry in April

The Archbishop reflected on the trials of marriage and also the inspirational examples of partnerships he has seen.

"There will be times when we may feel stupid or helpless, when we don't feel we have the energy or resource to forgive and rebuild after a crisis or a quarrel, when we don't want our freedom limited by the commitments we've made to someone else.

"Yet many of us will know marriages where something extraordinary has happened because of the persistence of one of the parties, or where faithfulness has survived the tests of severe illness or disability or trauma."

He said he felt "deeply moved" when he met the families of servicemen and women and saw their particular "sense of solidarity... so generous and costly".

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Let us leave the Minster this morning in a pure state, confident of our future in God's plan”

End Quote Dr John Sentamu Archbishop of York

"As the prince and his fiancee get ready for their new step into solidarity together, they will have plenty of inspiration around, more than you might sometimes guess from the chatter of our culture," he added.

Dr Williams concluded by urging people to remember Christians around the world, including in Zimbabwe and Iraq, who "suffer repression and persecution" for their faith.

He spoke of the "harassment, beatings and arrests" of Zimbabweans and encouraged the congregation to find time to join letter-writing campaigns for "all prisoners of conscience", organised by groups such as Amnesty International and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The "downtrodden" of Zimbabwe were also featured in Dr Sentamu's address.

He asked people to reflect on the "suffering in our world" in his Christmas sermon, and mentioned the parents of missing girl Madeleine McCann and the family of missing chef Claudia Lawrence.

Dr Sentamu told the congregation: "With joy in our response to God's message of deliverance, let us leave the Minster this morning in a pure state, confident of our future in God's plan.

"And then go and be God's new song: to the parents of Madeleine McCann, [missing woman] Claudia Lawrence; the downtrodden of Zimbabwe; the children and women brutalised in Eastern Congo, and Darfur; the people... losing their lives violently through suicide bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq; prisoners of conscience; Israel and Palestine."

He added to the list members of the armed forces, abused children, those who had suffered through the downturn and subsequent cuts, plus "the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the housebound, and the suffering in our world".

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