Human greed is a threat to the planet, warns Williams

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A stark warning that human greed is threatening to destroy the environment was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas message, while the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales appealed to people to be more welcoming to immigrants.

Dr Rowan Williams appealed to Christians to do more to safeguard the planet, saying it should not be used "as a warehouse of resources to serve humanity's selfishness".

He told worshippers at Canterbury Cathedral yesterday that people should treat other people and nature with reverence. "More and more [is] clearly required of us as we grow in awareness of how fragile is the balance of species and environments in the world and just how our greed distorts it," he said.

The leader of the Anglican Church added: "When we threaten the balance of things, we don't just put our material survival at risk, more profoundly we put our spiritual sensitivity at risk the possibility of being opened up to endless wonder by the world around us."

An environmental message was also given by the Rev John Owen, the leader of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, who said everyone should remember their "duty to the planet". He urged people to recycle leftover food and give unwanted presents to charity shops.

He said the international agreement on climate change reached in Bali this month did not mean that people should rely on governments to save the world. "Rather, we should redouble our efforts to take action and campaign against climate change," he said.

In his Christmas Homily, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, appealed to people to welcome immigrants. The Archbishop of Westminster accepted that immigration needed to be controlled, but said that some newcomers must feel like Joseph when he returned to Bethlehem after exile in Egypt, "excluded because they were outsiders".

He said: "Most immigrants come to our country because they wish to have a better life and work so as to provide for their families. Many of these people are trying, for perfectly good reasons, to enter Britain and they need to be welcomed."

In his traditional blessing in St Peter's Square in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said he wanted Christmas to bring hope to those facing poverty, injustice and war, and that his thoughts were with the Middle East, especially Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land. He spoke in 60 languages including English.

Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, highlighted world troublespots including Darfur, Zimbabwe and the Middle East in his sermon at York Minster. He said that every person was a "stand-in for God" but gave several examples of God being "violated and blasphemed" in 2007.

The Archbishop said: "In the killing, raping and looting fields of Darfur; in the broken nation and a broken people of Zimbabwe who have been force-fed with injustice and can swallow no more; for the unreconciled children of Abraham in the Middle East the Palestinians without a viable state they can call home and Israelis hungry for peace and security; for the refugees, the homeless and people caught up in human trafficking; in the walls of silence about the abduction of Madeleine McCann, the murder of Rhys Jones and the failure for any to take responsibility for the Omagh bombing God is being violated and blasphemed."

In her Christmas message, the Queen spoke of the need to care for the vulnerable and excluded in society, before reminding the public of the losses faced in the forces this year. Speaking on the 50th anniversary of her first televised message, she said: "Let us remember in [God's] name the poor, the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed".

Meanwhile Channel 4's alternative Christmas message came from a British soldier who lost an arm fighting in Afghanistan. Sgt Major Andrew Stockton urged the public to show their support to returning troops.