LONDON – Global church leaders gave their New Year messages as the world greeted 2007.
The spiritual head of the 77-million member worldwide Anglican Communion, Dr Rowan Williams, said Christians need to feel the same hunger for justice that ended the slave trade if the world is to be changed for the better. The head of the 1.1-billion member Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, similarly said that world peace can only be achieved if individuals' human rights are given full respect. Pope Benedict stressed that there can be no excuse for treating people as "objects".
Two days following the hanging of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein – an event the Vatican condemned as "tragic" – the pope said Monday that human rights must be put at the center of the global struggle to end war.
In a homily at St Peter’s Basilica, the pope said, "It is because every human individual, without distinction of race, culture or religion, is created in the image and likeness of God, that he is filled with the same dignity of person."
"That is why he must be respected," he added. :No reason can ever justify doing with him whatever one pleases, as if he is an object."
Marking his second New Year since succeeding John Paul II, the 79-year-old pontiff said: "Today people speak a lot about human rights, but it is often forgotten that these need a stable base, not one that is relative or a matter of opinion."
In particular, he said, this means respect for individuals and freedom to practice religion.
The pope also used his sermon on world peace to single out the Middle East. "How can we not turn our attention, once again, to the awful situation right in the land where Jesus was born?" he asked. "How can we not implore through persistent prayer that the day of peace also arrives in that region as soon as possible?"
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in his New Year message broadcasted on BBC Television in the U.K., drew on the example of William Wilberforce to urge people to act to change the world.
"Jesus talks about being hungry and thirsty for righteousness, for justice. And if we hear that in the way it's surely meant, we have to conclude that he means that we should feel there's something missing in us, something taken away from us, when another person, near or far away, has to face need and suffering. We get to be ourselves only when we wake up to them and their needs."
The message was filmed in Holy Trinity Church in Clapham and the Arndale Shopping center in Wandsworth, South London, and also featured footage shot during his visit to World Food projects in Southern Sudan. The reformers, he said, regarded the slave trade as making the whole of humanity less than human.
"People like William Wilberforce and Henry Thornton felt they were made less human than they should be by the appalling injustice of the slave trade. They felt a hunger for justice – a sense of being spiritually impoverished – ‘undernourished’ because of slavery," Williams stated.
People, he said, may feel overwhelmed or even bored by constant appeals, but change could only come if people were moved to act.
"When we look at the familiar images of other people's suffering, do we feel a void inside ourselves, a yearning for something different and a conviction that it needn't be like this?" the Anglican head asked.
"That's where change begins. And it's one of the differences that faith can make – faith in God and in people. It's worth remembering this year those who struggled to do away with the slave trade. If we lived in a society that tolerated slavery now, wouldn't we feel soiled and diminished by it? Wouldn't we feel hungry for something different? So what are the things today that make us feel the same?"
Williams’ message, which was broadcasted on New Year's Eve, was re-broadcasted New Year's Day.