Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Friday, 25 December 2009

Children 'rushed' into growing up, says Archbishop

Dr Rowan Williams delivered his sermon at Canterbury Cathedral

Society forces children to grow up too fast, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said in his Christmas Day sermon.

They need "nourishment and stability", rather than independence which can lead to "misery and exploitation", Dr Rowan Williams told Canterbury Cathedral.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, told the city's minster people must find room in life for God.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, used his homily to urge people to look "closer to home" for happiness.

Dr Williams said society had created a culture where being "dependent" was viewed with "pity and concern".

"We think of dependency on drugs and alcohol and worry about the dependent mindset that can be created by handouts to the destitute," he said.

But he said everyone was dependent on air and food to live, and on their parents to learn and grow.

As we learn how to be gratefully dependent, we learn how to attend to and respond to the dependence of others
Dr Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury

The archbishop said a culture of independence could be damaging for elderly or disabled people and children.

"We send out the message that if you're not standing on your own two feet and need regular support, you're an anomaly," he said.

"In the case of children we will do our level best to turn them into little consumers and performers as soon as we can. We shall test them relentlessly in schools.

"We shall do all we can to make childhood a brief and rather regrettable stage on the way to the real thing."

Dr Williams encouraged parents to treasure the dependency of their children.

'Sustaining happiness'

He said that dependence allows people to learn "to ask from each other, to receive from each other, to depend on the generosity of those who love us and stand alongside us".

"As we learn how to be gratefully dependent, we learn how to attend to and respond to the dependence of others," he said.

"And perhaps by God's grace we learn how to create a society in which real dependence is celebrated and safeguarded, not regarded with embarrassment or abused by the powerful and greedy."

Happiness, we are told, comes from the way we are recognised by society, yet we know in our hearts that this is not so
Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of York used his Christmas sermon to compare modern society with the plight of Jesus being born in a stable because there was no room for him at the inn.

"That inn at Bethlehem is like every human heart and community ever since," said Dr Sentamu.

"We find it easy to make room for our loved ones. Sadly, the poorest, narrowest, and least-honoured place is allotted to Jesus.

"Many celebrate Jesus Christ's birthday, but don't want him to be present. The birthday boy will spoil our celebration of his birthday if he is around," he added.

Earlier, at midnight Mass at Westminster Cathedral, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said it was vital people are not distracted from the true source of happiness.

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales said: "We are filled in this moment with peace and happiness… but will it last? In reality we know that our happiness and peace are difficult to sustain beyond moments such as this.

"Perhaps sustaining happiness in our lives is an art we have lost."

Pope knocked down

Archbishop Nichols said too often people chase after status, wealth and success in the false hope that they will bring contentment.

He said: "Happiness, we are told, comes from the way we are recognised by society, yet we know in our hearts that this is not so.

"Our happiness lives much closer to home, it lives in our steady relationships."

Archbishop Nichols gave his sermon shortly after Pope Benedict was knocked over by a woman during Christmas Eve Mass in St Peter's in the Vatican.

After hearing of the incident, Archbishop Nichols said: "It's surprising that it happened in St Peter's because the security there has been changed a great deal in recent years and is much more tight than it used to be."



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