I find it hard to express what it means to me to join all of you here, in this sacred place, and in this special and holy season of Advent, to recognise the role that so many of you play as instruments of peace in God’s world.
In recent years, I have had the great privilege of meeting so many Christians who, with such inspiring faith and courage, are battling oppression and persecution, or who have fled to escape it.
Time and again I have been deeply humbled and profoundly moved by the extraordinary grace and capacity for forgiveness that I have seen in those who have suffered so much.
Forgiveness, as many of you know far better than I, is not a passive act, or submission. Rather, it is an act of supreme courage; of a refusal to be defined by the sin against you; of determination that love will triumph over hate.
It is one thing to believe in God who forgives; it is quite another to take that example to heart and actually to forgive, with the whole heart, “those who trespass against you” so grievously.
So, in coming together today, we can only give thanks for the truly remarkable strength of the Faith with which so many Christians face persecution, and which gives them the courage and the determination to endure, and to overcome.
They are an inspiration to the whole church, and to all people of goodwill.
Earlier this year I had the great joy of meeting a Dominican Sister from Nineveh who, in 2014, as Daesh extremists advanced on the town of Qaraqosh, got behind the wheel of a minibus crammed full of her fellow Christians, and drove the long and dangerous road to safety.
Like the 100,000 other Christians who were forced from the Nineveh Plains by Daesh that year, they left behind the ruins of their homes and churches, and the shattered remnants of their communities.
The Sister told me, movingly, of her return to Nineveh with her fellow Sisters three years later, and of their despair at the utter destruction they found there.
But like so many others, they put their Faith in God, and today the tide has turned - nearly half of those displaced having gone back, to rebuild their homes and their communities.
Churches, schools, orphanages and businesses are rising from the rubble, and the fabric of that society, which had been so cruelly torn apart, is being gradually repaired.
This is the most wonderful testament to the resilience of humanity, and to the extraordinary power of Faith to resist even the most brutal efforts to extinguish it, and I could hardly be more delighted that another of those Dominican Sisters will speak later in this Service.
Throughout history, in these lands which are the cradle of faith for Jews, Muslims and Christians, communities of different beliefs have shown that it is possible to live side by side as neighbours and friends.
Indeed, I know that in Lebanon Muslims join Christians at the Shrine of our Lady of Lebanon to honour her together. And I know that there are Muslim faith leaders who have spoken out in defence of Christian communities and of their contribution to the region.
Co-existence and understanding are not just possible, therefore; they are confirmed by hundreds of years of shared experience. Extremism and division are by no means inevitable.
All three of the great Abrahamic faiths believe in a loving, just and merciful God who cares for creation, who cares for his creatures and who expects us to care for one another.
So in this season of Advent, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself knew exile, injustice and suffering, I can only assure you of our steadfast support and most heartfelt prayers as you take forward your works of restoration, justice and healing, so that God’s will might be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.