The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged people not to let the Ebola crisis or war in areas such as South Sudan “slip from our minds” as he issued a new year message.
The Most Rev Justin Welby, who was diagnosed with pneumonia after being forced to pull out of his Christmas Day sermon at Canterbury Cathedral service, issued the message from the National Memorial Arboretum.
He praised the “extraordinary dedication” of the British military in Sierra Leone, one of the three west African countries worst affected by the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.
And he also spoke of his “unspeakable gratitude” to servicemen and women after the end of the war in Afghanistan, with withdrawal completed in 2014.
He said: “The National Memorial Arboretum is a place of reflection, remembrance and prayer, dedicated to those who have served, suffered or sacrificed for this country. To those who are remembered here, we owe a debt of unspeakable gratitude.
“This new year is particularly significant, marking the end of one of the longest wars that our modern services have fought.
“There is a danger that the sacrifice and suffering of those caught up in war and disaster will slip from our minds.
“Each day brings its toll of bad news, of disasters inflicted on the innocent by war and disease.
“In 2014 we saw so much of that in the Middle East, in north-east Nigeria, with the persecution of Christians and other minorities. And in the week before Christmas itself, there was the horrendous massacre of children in Pakistan.
“There is so much suffering that at the new year it is tempting to look inwards in despair, but we are not a country that turns our back on the suffering and the weak and the helpless.
“In the week just before Christmas I was in Sierra Leone, very briefly. There I saw the result of British generosity, of aid poured in to support a country torn apart by Ebola, and the extraordinary dedication of British service personnel, working with charities, funded by our aid budget.
“I saw the profound heroism of local people dealing with something that none of us understand which makes lethal the basic instincts of touch and embrace for the sick and the dying. The week before that I was in the South Sudan, and saw again the open-handedness of the British people who have contributed to a programme that has saved one and a half million sufferers, war battered from starvation.
“When we are at our best, living out the generosity of Jesus Christ, as that has formed itself in our national character, when we turn outwards and use our best resources to change this world in which we live, we see what a wonderful heritage we have, and the hope we can bring to the poorest and those with the greatest suffering on the face of our planet.
“So what do we hope for in 2015? My hope and prayer is that we are the kind of country that goes on looking outwards, that is full of a generous spirit. Because when we’re generous we find joy and others find comfort and hope. So may that joy and comfort be yours in this coming year.”