Archbishop of Canterbury appeals for greater generosity towards refugees

 

The spiritual leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans pleaded yesterday for greater understanding for refugees scattered across the globe, while Pope John Paul II told Rome and the Catholic Church that they had one year left to get ready for Christianity's millennium jubilee.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, reminding Christians that Christ ranked as one of history's best-known refugees, said the world's 50 million refugees should be shown more generosity.

In his New Year message, Dr Carey criticised the British media for "whipping up fear and hostility" against the 50,000 asylum-seekers in Britain. Many come from Kosovo and Albania.

"The presence of strangers can make us nervous or even angry. But people don't readily uproot themselves from all that is familiar," he said. "Choosing to leave homeland, family and friends is probably the most painful decision they will ever have to make." In the Vatican on New Year's Eve Pope John Paul II was counting down to 2000, not 1999. Pope John Paul delivered his year-end hymn of thanksgiving in Rome's rococo Church of St Ignatius, looking ahead to what the visiting millions would find in their jubilee-year pilgrimages to the city.

"In a year's time, we will already be in the holy year, and numerous pilgrims will be starting to arrive from every corner of the Earth," he said. "I wish from my heart that they will be welcomed by a church alive and rich in religious fervour; a church generous and sensible toward the needs of mankind, especially the poor and those in need."

As is traditional, the Pope's congregation for the year-end vespers service was made up of many of the church and civic leaders of Rome, including Mayor Francesco Rutelli. Much of their city is now shrouded in scaffolding and road-works barriers in preparation for the 20 million or more pilgrims expected for the jubilee year.

Speaking to, and for, them, he said: "I make a pledge that our city will make its jubilee appointment fundamentally renovated in all dimensions of spiritual and social life."

In Britain, hundreds of thousands of revellers were nursing New Year hangovers after 1999 was ushered in with street celebrations. The mild weather in most parts of the country brought big crowds out on to the streets, but it was a relatively peaceful New Year, with police reporting a number of arrests but no serious disorder.

The biggest celebration in Britain was in Edinburgh, where Hogmanay drew about 200,000 people to a free street party in the city centre, featuring a concert by UB40, The Pretenders and Mansun.

In contrast to Edinburgh, which hosted more than 50 events in a four-day festival leading up to a spectacular fireworks display at midnight, London had no entertainment laid on in Trafalgar Square, the traditional focal point for the capital's New Year's Eve celebrations.

Some 90,000 revellers ignored police advice to stay away and crammed into the square to hear the chimes of Big Ben signal the arrival of 1999, and thousands more partied elsewhere in the West End.

New Year's Eve celebrations in the Philippines seemed less raucous than usual, but hundreds of people were injured in firecracker accidents and by stray bullets.

The Health Ministry in Manila said 492 people were injured in the past 10 days throughout the country, including 37 who needed amputations. Most of the injuries occurred on New Year's Eve and most of the injured were sent home after treatment, it said. There were no deaths.

New Year's celebrations left at least 187 dead and almost 800 injured across Latin America, authorities said yesterday. The overwhelming majority of injuries came from fireworks, they reported.

In Colombia, celebrations left 121 people dead, police said, adding however that the figure was 26 fewer than last year at the same time.

More than 300 protesters marched through Hong Kong yesterday calling for more democracy in China. The rally was the first of a series of activities planned by pro-democracy activists in the former British colony to mark the 10th anniversary of Beijing's Tiananmen Square massacre.

At least six people were killed in New Year's Eve violence in Johannesburg, South African police said yesterday. The worst hit area was Hillbrow district, which saw two murders and five attempted murders, police said without elaborating.