Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Thursday, 25 December 2008

Church leaders focus on downturn

By Robert Pigott
BBC religious affairs correspondent

City trader
The Church leaders have called on people to change their priorities

Church leaders have been calling on societies focused on money and consumption to use the economic downturn to reconsider what makes for genuine well-being.

Several used their Christmas messages to reinforce the idea, and have made some scathing criticisms of the way the market economy has been run.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said trust in the financial system has been lost.

What he called "spectacular cases" of bad behaviour by some people at the heart of the system would make that trust hard to restore.

In what will be his last Christmas sermon as Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said those who operated the market had an obligation to promote the common good and not just the interests of certain groups.

If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart
Pope Benedict

So was he saying that the economy had been run for the benefit of the rich?

"Well I mean you can put it like that. But I think that people feel let down.

"And now they feel a lack of trust if those who, as I say, are running the economy, and the bankers and the financiers, are not giving them credit and so on."

Other Church leaders have expressed the hope that the economic downturn would prompt a fundamental re-thinking of what true wealth really is.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said recession should act as a "reality check".

In his Christmas sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Williams said that the story of Jesus's birth did have a message for a world struggling with economic downturn - but it was not the offer of a magical solution to its ills.

Dr Williams said the story of the nativity was a harder one...that it was pointless to wait for some larger-than-life hero to solve the world's problems.

He said the salvation Jesus had brought would not be seen people's lives in material terms but as self-giving and compassion.

London currency traders
The Church leaders have criticised materialistic values

Dr Williams called for people to reflect it in small, local, gestures of help.

"In the months ahead, it will mean in our own country asking repeatedly what is demanded of us locally to care for those who bear the heaviest burdens in the wake of our economic crisis, without waiting for the magical solution, let alone the return of the good times."

In his Christmas message, Pope Benedict also said recession should prompt greater concern for other people's welfare.

He told Catholics in St Peter's Square in Rome, that for all the hardship for people in the wealthiest countries, others - such as those struggling with hyperinflation in Zimbabwe - remained trapped in an ever-worsening crisis.

The Pope said: "If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart."

Christian leaders know that the chance to persuade people to reconsider such fundamental attitudes as what makes a good life occurs only rarely.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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