The Archbishop of Westminster made an appeal for compassion for those depending on hand-outs “both here and abroad” in his Christmas message.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the birth of Jesus in a manger should “open our eyes and our hearts to the vulnerable around us”.
In his Midnight Mass sermon, he said that people should have compassion: “compassion for those caught in the living death of slavery, compassion for the hungry, depending on on hand-outs, both here and abroad, compassion for those forced out of their homes, whether in Iraq, Syria or the countless other places from which come the millions of displaced persons and refugees in the world today.”
The Cardinal also warned that the 21st century was marked by “power-crazed extremists" engaging in the “widespread persecution of the followers of Christ”.
His comments came as the Archbishop of Canterbury warned that the Christmas story should not be portrayed just as a fantasy “happy-ever-after” message.
The Most Rev Justin Welby, in the sermon he was prevented from delivering by a heavy cold, said that if the story ended with happy shepherds disappearing into the sunrise Christmas would become “utterly remote, about lives entirely different, fictional, naive, tidy”.
He gave as examples the Ebola outbreak in Africa and the Christmas truce in the trenches in World War One when German and English soldiers ended up playing football.
“Ebola will be as virulent today as it was yesterday, crossing boundaries defiantly,” he added. “It will be beaten by those courageous people treating and working, both locals and many from this country, but the struggle is hard.”
The Archbishop had visited Sierra Leone a few weeks ago but his spokeswoman categorically denied any connection between his cold and the visit, stating he had been screened by Public Health England on his return and had not caught Ebola.
“Today there is no Christmas truce in the Middle East or in north-east Nigeria where Christians are persecuted with other minorities,” he added. “The tension in the ancient lands of Jesus’ birth rises by the day. Fear does not have a truce nor does the animosity and hatred whose tangible outcome is increasing separation between Israeli and Palestinian.”