easter is the most important date in thechristian calendar, and an incredibly special timefor people across britainand around the world. last month i was in jerusalem and bethlehemand i got tosee for myself the places where jesus was born and died. it was anextraordinaryexperience to be in those places where so much history began.
today, XX years on, easter is not just atime for christians across our country to reflect,but a time for our wholecountry to reflect on what christianity brings to britain. all over theuk,every day, there are countless acts of kindness carried out by those whobelieve in andfollow christ. the heart of christianity is to “love thyneighbor” and millions do really live thatout. i think of the alpha coursesrun in our prisons, which work with offenders to give them anew life insideand outside prison, or the soup kitchens and homeless shelters run bychurches.and we saw that same spirit during the terrible storms that struck britainearlier thisyear. from somerset to surrey, from oxford to devon, churchesbecame refuges, offeringshelter and food, congregations raised funds andrallied together, parish priests even canoedthrough their villages to rescueresidents. they proved, yet again, that people’s faith motivatesthem to dogood deeds.
that is something this government supportsand celebrates, and it’s why we haveannounced more funding for the nearneighbours programme bringing together even morefaiths in even more cities todo social action. and as we celebrate easter, let’s also think ofthose who areunable to do so, the christians around the world who are ostracised, abused –evenmurdered – simply for the faith they follow. religious freedom is anabsolute, fundamentalhuman right.
britain is committed to protecting andpromoting that right, by standing up for christiansand other minorities, athome and abroad. our hearts go out to them, especially at this specialtime ofyear. so as we approach this festival i’d like to wish everyone, christians andnon-christians a very happy easter.