Pope com­forts ter­ror vic­tims in Christ­mas mes­sage

Re­li­gious lead­ers strike somber note on Christ­mas

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Pope Fran­cis urged peace in the Mid­dle East as tens of thou­sands gath­ered to hear his Christ­mas ad­dress yes­ter­day, while of­fer­ing com­fort to vic­tims of ter­ror­ism af­ter a year of bloody ji­hadist at­tacks. The 80-yearold Ar­gen­tine called for guns to fall silent in Syria, say­ing “far too much blood has been spilled” in the nearly six-year con­flict. And he urged Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans to “have the courage and the de­ter­mi­na­tion to write a new page of his­tory” in his mes­sage from the bal­cony of Saint Peter’s Basil­ica to a crowd of 40,000 gath­ered in the square be­low which, de­spite the sunny weather, was far from full.

As Europe ramped up se­cu­rity for the hol­i­day just days af­ter the truck at­tack that left 12 dead at a Ber­lin Christ­mas mar­ket, the leader of the world’s 1.2 bil­lion Catholics said he hoped for “peace to those who have lost a per­son dear to them as a re­sult of bru­tal acts of ter­ror­ism”. In Mi­lan, where sus­pected Ber­lin at­tacker Anis Amri was killed in a po­lice shootout on Fri­day, there was a heavy po­lice pres­ence around the cathe­dral. The en­trance has been pro­tected by con­crete bar­ri­ers since the Ber­lin at­tack.

In France, where Ber­lin has raised grim mem­o­ries of the ji­hadist truck ram­page in June that left 86 peo­ple dead, 91,000 mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces have been de­ployed to guard public spa­ces in­clud­ing churches and mar­kets over the week­end. Re­li­gious cer­e­monies in Ger­many were heavy with the weight of Mon­day’s at­tack, which was claimed by the Is­lamic State group. “Christ­mas this year car­ries a deep wound - we are cel­e­brat­ing this fes­ti­val in a dif­fer­ent way this year,” said Geb­hard Fuerst, bishop of Rothen­burg in the south­east.

But Baden bishop Jochen Cor­nelius-Bund­schuh of­fered a note of hope. “At Christ­mas, a light shines in the world - it shines in pow­er­ful dark­nesses like those we have seen in re­cent years with the hor­ror of war, civil war and ter­ror­ist at­tacks,” he said.

‘Closed doors, de­fended bor­ders’

In Is­rael, se­cu­rity was tight for Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions co­in­cid­ing with the Jewish fes­ti­val of Hanukkah. Some 2,500 wor­ship­pers packed the Church of the Na­tiv­ity com­plex, built over the grotto where Chris­tians be­lieve Je­sus was born, for mid­night mass in Beth­le­hem in the Is­rae­lioc­cu­pied West Bank. Arch­bishop Pier­bat­tista Piz­z­a­balla used his homily there to plead for com­pas­sion for refugees and for a halt to the vi­o­lence wrack­ing the Mid­dle East.

“We fear the stranger who knocks at the door of our home and at the bor­ders of our coun­tries,” he said. “Closed doors, de­fended bor­ders, be­fore per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal choices, are a metaphor for the fear that in­evitably breed the vi­o­lent dy­nam­ics of the present time.” Pope Fran­cis struck a sim­i­lar tone in his Christ­mas Eve mass, urg­ing a 10,000-strong crowd in St Peter’s Square to feel com­pas­sion for chil­dren, no­tably vic­tims of war, mi­gra­tion and home­less­ness.

Justin Welby, the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury who leads the world’s Angli­cans, mean­while said 2016 had left the world more di­vided and fear­ful. “The end of 2016 finds us all in a dif­fer­ent kind of world; one less pre­dictable and cer­tain, which feels more awash with fear and di­vi­sion,” he was due to say in his ser­mon Sun­day.

Icy swim, meat auc­tion

Queen El­iz­a­beth II missed the Christ­mas Day church ser­vice at­tended by the Bri­tish royal fam­ily as she suf­fered from a heavy cold, Buck­ing­ham Palace said. The 90-yearold, who is the supreme gov­er­nor of the Church of Eng­land, will join in the fam­ily fes­tiv­i­ties later in the day. In Lon­don, meat-lovers con­verged on Smith­field Mar­ket for the tra­di­tional Christ­mas Eve auc­tion at butcher Harts, wav­ing ban­knotes in the air as they bid on turkeys, pork cuts and rump steaks.

Else­where in the world, de­spite the se­cu­rity fears, many were brav­ing win­ter tem­per­a­tures to take part in tra­di­tional rev­elry. Among them some 30 hardy Slo­vaks par­tic­i­pated in a win­ter swim at Bratislava’s Zlate Piesky lake, some drink­ing beer in the nearly freez­ing wa­ter. But in the world’s con­flict-torn coun­tries, there were re­minders of the vi­o­lence that has rav­aged the world this year.

Chris­tians in Syria’s Aleppo were pre­par­ing for Christ­mas ser­vices af­ter Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad’s forces re­took full con­trol of the ru­ined for­mer eco­nomic hub. The Old City’s Saint Elias Cathe­dral, its roof col­lapsed un­der rocket fire, was set to host its first Christ­mas mass in five years. And in Bar­talla, near the Iraqi city of Mo­sul, Chris­tians filled the pews of the fire-scarred Mar Shi­moni church for the first ser­vice since the town was re­taken from IS ji­hadists who had seized it in 2014. In the mostly Catholic Philip­pines, a blast ripped through a po­lice car out­side a church as wor­ship­pers were ar­riv­ing for a Christ­mas Eve mass south of Manila, in­jur­ing 13 peo­ple. — AFP

VAT­I­CAN CITY: Pope Fran­cis de­liv­ers his speech from the bal­cony of St Peter’s basil­ica dur­ing the tra­di­tional “Urbi et Orbi” Christ­mas mes­sage to the city and the world yes­ter­day in St Peter’s Square. — AFP

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