Pope voices concern for poor
Call for solidarity in New Year's prayers
Pope Benedict XVI marked the final hours of 2010 last night with public prayer and a word of concern for families struggling with economic troubles.
He gave thanks for God's grace and love throughout the year as he presided over a traditional New Year's Eve vespers service in St Peter's Basilica.
The Pope offered praise for volunteers who work with the downtrodden and spoke of his concern for those suffering economic woes.
"The current moment still generates worry for the precariousness in which so many families live," the 83-year-old pontiff said.
He said the tough times required solidarity "with those who live in conditions of poverty or deprivation".
He was philosophical about the year's passing.
"At the end of . . . 2010, before leaving its days and hours to God and his just and merciful judgment, I feel a very strong need in my heart to elevate our thanks to him and his love for us," Pope Benedict said during his homily.
A choir solemnly sang hymns of praise and ministers sprinkled incense around the flower-bedecked altar as the Pope stood silently with his hands folded in prayer.
The Pope will return to the Basilica at mid-morning today to celebrate New Year's Day Mass, which The Vatican dedicates to world peace.
Meanwhile, in another New Year message, Donal McKeown, Bishop of Down and Connor, referred to widespread disillusionment with the political system in the current economic crisis.
"At the start of 2011 there is a lot of anger and fear around," Bishop McKeown said.
"In some quarters there is more talk of revolutions than of resolutions."
Bishop McKeown also admitted all Christian churches in Ireland faced huge challenges as they stepped into the second decade of the 21st century in a culture where secularism had developed a strident voice.
And he acknowledged the Catholic Church in Ireland had a particularly big mountain to climb to develop its credibility as a humble and self-sacrificing institution.
"For most young people, the choice is whether to opt into active involvement with religious bodies, not whether to opt out of them.
"Across modern Ireland, not having any real connection with the church is the assumed default position," Bishop McKeown said.
In his own message, the Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Norman Hamilton, said a New Year was normally associated with hopes of a fresh new start, but this time round "we all know that we are going to face not just harsh weather, but harsh economic realities for the whole of 2011".
But Dr Hamilton said he hoped that in 2011, Presbyterians "just might learn to listen to the call of God a little more, and listen to the call of money a little less".