ARCHBISHOP Diarmuid Martin has described the huge response to the Crosscare food appeal as "extraordinary".
The Primate of Ireland became emotional as he praised the "absolutely spectacular" generosity of people which had resulted in the food bank being replenished by 70 tonnes of food in less than four weeks, including a donation from Cloverhill prison.
Referring to the "fundamental goodness" of people he said, for him, it was "the strongest sign that despite everything, we live in a healthy society and that this sort of goodness is still being passed from one generation to the other."
He said this generosity was "the fundamental backbone" of society. Admitting he could understand people being frustrated with different failings of Irish society, he said the challenge was "to translate that genuine care that is in people into the structures of society and bring about reforms".
"It is something that we tend to forget -- there are a lot of people who are angry and bickering -- and very critical -- but on the other hand there is this fundamental goodness," he said.
"But in the long term those reforms won't work unless we have people with soft hearts."
The archbishop also paid tribute to parents "who still manage in the midst of extravagance to bring out a smile in a child through a gift rather than smothering the child" with excess.
Recalling a present his father made for him the Christmas he was three, he said it was at a time when his family was in the most difficult situation economically.
"My father made me a little track on which I could run my cars -- it is probably the only Christmas present I can remember.
"All of us are touched by simplicity. If you don't understand and experience simplicity then you haven't understood Christmas.
"Jesus came to reveal that God loves us. That isn't a fairytale -- it is telling people who God is like. We have all got the wrong idea of God as a God who either waves the magic wand or waves a whip to subdue us.
"We are all pressurised by consumerism, which has tried to milk Christmas. We have to learn to live within consumerism rather than be part of consumerism."
The archbishop will celebrate midnight Mass and midday Mass tomorrow in Dublin's Pro Cathedral. He will then go to a lunch in the RDS which is organised for the homeless; after that he will visit some nuns in enclosed convents.
"Then over to my brother, whom I see far too rarely, and his children and grandchildren."
The week after Christmas he will spend in Rome with his friends and their children and grandchildren with whom he spent 30 Christmases while he worked as a Vatican diplomat.
"The great thing is their grandchildren don't ask me anything about my work," he joked.