Here in Northern Ireland we all know what terrorism does to people. For years we have lived with the consequences of violence. But the 11th September last was something different. Suddenly the entire world was faced with questions about life and death, about the brevity and fragility of life and the uncertainty of the future. The global village is still coming to terms with the questions and we have yet to find the answers.
The results of the 11th September in the United States have touched every aspect of our lives. For generations to come mankind will struggle with those issues. This Christmas the real Christian meaning of the scene in the stable of Bethlehem speaks directly to those questions. The name given to the Christ child meant 'God with us'. To accept that meaning of Christmas is not to receive some sort of spiritual insurance policy against evil or loss. It is to grasp the assurance that in the weakness, vulnerability and innocence of the birth of Christ God became totally identified with every aspect of our lives. Behind the spending and appearance of prosperity in our Province are issues we still have to address on the long road to stability, justice and equality for all: issues of fear, uncertainty, want, need and loss of confidence.
In the new year how we regard each other, how we listen to those we disagree with as well as those we feel comfortable with, how we face up to injustice and inequality, how we protect the vulnerable - how we struggle to build a new society of compassion and caring will determine the sort of place this island home can become.
May the certainty as well as the confidence of the true Christian meaning of Christmas give all of us fresh courage to do what we can to create a new society of caring in 2002.