Christians Celebrate Christmas as Leaders Urge Peace

Christians around the world celebrated Christmas Tuesday as the Catholic leader in the Holy Land pleaded for peace in the Middle East and Pope Benedict XVI spoke against selfishness.

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to celebrate the midnight mass in St Peter's Basilica (Photo: AFP)

In Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah said in a sermon for Christmas midnight mass: "This land of God cannot be for some a land of life and for others a land of death, exclusion, occupation, or political imprisonment.

"All those whom God, the lord of history, has gathered here must be able to find in this land life, dignity and security," he said, addressing thousands of Christians from all over the world in a sermon delivered in his native Arabic.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas attended the mass fresh from last month's meet in the US city of Annapolis, where he formally relaunched the peace process with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Pope Benedict spoke out against selfishness as he celebrated midnight mass at Saint Peter's Basilica packed with thousands of worshippers.

"Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others -- for his neighbor, for the poor, for God," he said in Italian.

The leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics also spoke of degradation of the environment as thousands listened in the vast basilica and millions more on television.

Recalling Christmas homilies of the fourth-century Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, who lamented a "universe torn and disfigured by sin," the Pope asked: "What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation?"

Earlier, the 80-year-old pope kicked off Christmas festivities by lighting a candle for world peace in a window overlooking St Peter's Square as this year's nativity scene was unveiled.

Midnight mass is nothing more than a memory for Christians in Baghdad where danger is ever present. The last one was celebrated four years ago, before the American invasion in 2003. A mass is now held at dusk on Christmas Eve, and another on the morning of Christmas Day.

In the Philippines, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales urged the government to address injustices suffered by the country's millions of poor.

"Our prayer and pleading, like a Christian prayer of hope and peace, is for the poor to be paid more attention to in our Christian country's economy and laws. This will eventually bring peace to everyone," Rosales said in his Christmas message.

Guns fell silent in the country's long-running communist insurgency as the security forces and Maoist guerrillas observed a traditional Christmas ceasefire.

In Indian Kashmir, Muslims joined several hundred Christians to celebrate mass and offered prayers for peace to return to the troubled area.

Across in remote northeast India, which has a large Christian population, thousands of worshippers also celebrated Christmas by praying for peace across the insurgency-wracked region.

"People cannot rejoice unless there is peace. We hope our prayers are answered," Baptist minister Reverend N. Pau said in Guwahati, the main city in Assam state. "We want an end to all forms of bloodshed and killings."

In neighboring Bangladesh, Christians offered prayers for victims of last month's cyclone, which killed at least 3,300 people.

"Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by the devastating Cyclone Sidr," Archbishop of Dhaka Poulinus Costa said.

"Many of them are passing these winter nights without food and clothes and in dire condition. Let us stand by their side. Let us pray to God for their welfare," he added.

In officially atheist China, millions of Christians celebrated Christmas in approved and so-called "underground" churches, while countless other non-believers seized on what has become an increasingly commercial day to go shopping.

State-run newspapers made little mention of the religious aspect of Christmas, which is not a national holiday.

Unseasonably cold weather in Sydney and along much of the east coast kept Australians away from the beaches, with numbers visibly down at Bondi where locals and tourists traditionally gather to celebrate Christmas.

While the drop in temperature may have dampened plans for beachside celebrations, the colder weather and rain brought an early Christmas present to farmers struggling with a prolonged drought in the eastern state of Queensland.

"Hopefully it might be the end of the drought. We're all hoping so," Roma mayor Bruce Garvie told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Source: AFP

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