ARCHBISHOP Bernard Longley has assured the troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq of his special prayers for the New Year, together with their families and those close to them, writes Peter Jennings.
He also offered prayers for the singing group The Soldiers, whom he met in December, and for Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Birmingham. During his sermon at Midnight Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, Archbishop Longley said: “We remember especially the members of the Armed Forces and Armed Forces personnel whose duty keeps them in Afghanistan or other troubled areas, far from their loved ones at home and feeling the distance at Christmas.
“We pray for them that the Prince of Peace may bless them and their families – and that the same Christ may touch and restore goodness to the hearts of those who seek change only through violence or threats.” Arch bishop Longley met The Soldiers at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, during the BBC Radio Ed Doolan Christmas Show, broadcast on December 21.
He wished The Soldiers – Sergeant Major Gary Chilton, Sergeant Richie Maddocks and Lance Corporal Ryan Idzi – all the best for their British tour. These real-life soldiers performed two poignant songs – “Coming Home” and “A Soldier’s Christmas Letter” from their debut album Coming Home, released in October. They knew first-hand what it is like to be away from their loved ones, and vividly captured these emotions in their singing.
The lead track “Coming Home” was released on October 5 2009 as a digital download with proceeds going to the Army Benevolent Fund.
Part of the proceeds are also going to the charities Help For Heroes and the Royal British Legion. The youngest member of The Soldiers is 24-year-old Lance Corporal Ryan Idzi, who appeared on the X Factor in 2007. From Caerphilly, South Wales, Idzi has served in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the 20th Armoured Brigade.
Sergeant Major Gary Chilton joined the Royal Armoured Corps in 1984 straight from school and fought in the Gulf War.
Sergeant Richie Maddocks, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, enlisted in the British Army at the age of 16 and also fought in the Gulf War.