Irish Church leaders are urging people to reach out to the lonely and isolated this Christmas.
Combating loneliness would be “an important part” of local churches’ preparations for Christmas this year, they said, after months of social distancing and restrictions on meeting with others during the pandemic.
The statement from the Church Leaders’ Group, which includes representatives of all the main Christian denominations, was issued in support of the BBC Northern Ireland’s Christmas Appeal 2020, which is focusing on loneliness and staying connected at Christmas.
“This year, we have had to think even more creatively about how we do that while protecting public health, but we are conscious that this pastoral and community outreach will be more important than ever,” the Church leaders said.
“This has been a particularly difficult year for so many, bringing experiences of loss and separation, especially for those who have been bereaved.”
They said the BBC campaign was an important contribution to nationwide efforts to address loneliness and encourage people to reach out for help.
The Church leaders urged people “not to underestimate” the difference they could make on an individual level by sharing “simple messages of care and concern” for neighbours.
“At Christmas time, Christians reflect on God’s gift to the world in Christ who would know the reality of human suffering,” they said.
“We pray that those who are struggling will experience the comfort of God’s love and protection in these challenging times.”
They added: “The unprecedented challenge of a global pandemic has seen communities pull together in solidarity and concern for the most vulnerable.
“This inspires us with hope as we experience a very different Christmas and look ahead to the New Year.”