Archbishop of York urges UK to welcome refugees in Christmas message

The Archbishop is currently undertaking a six month pilgrimage walk across the Diocese of York.Reuters

The UK must play its part in welcoming as many refugees as it can, the Archbishop of York has said in his Christmas message.

Printed in the Yorkshire Post, Archbishop John Sentamu – who himself fled to Britain from Uganda in the 1970s – urged Christians to "show someone some love and kindness" over the festive season.

Focussing on refugees fleeing persecution and war, as well as those suffering under benefit sanctions in the UK, the Archbishop said we must work for a more just society.

"You can't see these things and remain unmoved. It makes me angry – and impatient – and longing - to see a fairer society," he said.

"We cannot go on as we are. We must change things."

He welcomed Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to welcome 20,000 Syrian refugees into Britain over the next four years, but added: "In fact we may be able to do more – if it is needed we should play our part."

"The images we have all seen of human suffering in Syria have shocked us all. The terror faced by those who have fled, and sought sanctuary in Europe and elsewhere, is all too real," Sentamu continued.

"Of course there are challenges – and one of the challenges churches and local communities are taking on in the coming months is the business of helping Syrian families settle, and making them welcome.

"As someone who was welcomed to the UK back in 1974 when I needed sanctuary and protection from the brutal regime of Idi Amin, I know the plight of those fleeing from the killing fields in the Middle East. I applaud those of you preparing to welcome survivors of such blasphemous and violent actions."

We must work together "to seek peace, and bring justice" to the crisis in Syria, the Archbishop said.

"How we need to hear and heed the angels' song: 'Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to God's people on earth!'!

"We can all be thankful that, the first Christmas, God did not simply look upon the earth in its struggles from a safe distance, as through a telescope. God took the greatest risk of all – He pitched his fleshy tent among us in Jesus Christ."

Sentamu also pointed to the birth of Jesus as an opportunity to recognise that we can "begin again", a message that he was to preach this morning at Kirklevington Grange open prison near Yarm, in north Yorkshire.

The Archbishop spent time with staff and prisoners today as part of his six month pilgrimage walk across the Diocese of York.

"I was a Prison Chaplain once and as Bishop for Stepney used to go into the two local prisons on Christmas Day," he said ahead of the visit.

"I was reminded of Matthew 25: 'I was in prison and you came to visit me'. On Christmas Day, I will be telling all at Kirklevington of the love of God in Jesus Christ for each one of us. For those who are in prison, who are lonely, who feel lost or abandoned – they are all stand-ins for Jesus Christ.

"You can encounter Christ everywhere, even in prison! The birth of Jesus of Nazareth reminds us that God is in the business of making all things new. All of us can make a fresh start with God and with one another today!"

Angie Petit, acting governor for Kirklevington Grange, said: "We are delighted to welcome the Archbishop – it is a particular pleasure to have His Grace here on Christmas Day which is always a challenging day for both those residing and working in prison, separated from family.

"I am sure he will see the atmosphere of hope we provide here, with opportunities to prepare for successful release into the community and we wish him well with his onward pilgrimage in the North East."