BFF-29 Pope’s Christmas message appeals for peace in global flashpoints

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CHRISTMAS-RELIGION-LEAD

Pope’s Christmas message appeals for peace in global flashpoints

VATICAN CITY, Dec 25, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Christmas celebrations kicked off
around the world on Wednesday, with Pope Francis appealing for peace in many
of the world’s hotspots while festivities were muted for Filipinos battered
by a typhoon, as well as in strike-bound France.

“May Christ bring his light to the many children suffering from war and
conflicts in the Middle East and in various countries of the world,” Francis
said in his traditional Christmas message at the Vatican, singling out the
crises in Venezuela and Lebanon as well as armed conflicts ravaging many
African countries.

Earlier Wednesday, the pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
sent wishes of “peace and prosperity” to South Sudan as negotiations faltered
between the African country’s government and rebels.

The spiritual leaders of more than 1.3 billion Christians said they were
praying “for a renewed commitment to the path of reconciliation and
fraternity” in the world’s newest nation.

Typhoon Phanfone meanwhile brought a wet, miserable and terrifying holiday
season to the central Philippines, stranding tens of thousands of people.

In France, Christmas was also a gloomy affair as a crippling transport
strike against pension reform was set to enter its fourth week, ruining the
plans of many to gather with family and friends.

– ‘Bumpy year’ –

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II arrived for the annual Christmas Day service
in Sandringham without her ailing husband Prince Philip, 98, who was released
from hospital after a four-night stay for an unspecified illness.

But she was accompanied by Prince Andrew, her scandal-plagued second son,
whose disastrous attempts to distance himself from American convicted
paedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s victims have backfired. The prince gave up his
public duties last month.

In her traditional Christmas Day message later Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth
was to describe 2019 as “quite bumpy” after a year of crises in the royal
family.

A bank robber brought some offbeat Christmas joy to stunned passers-by in
Colorado, police confirmed Wednesday.

The white-bearded man robbed the bank in Colorado Springs on Monday, then
threw the stolen cash in the air for people to grab, US media reported.

“He started throwing money out of the bag and then said, ‘Merry Christmas!”
witness Dion Pascale told local media. The suspect was later arrested.

In the biblical town of Bethlehem on Tuesday, a few hundred worshippers
gathered in the church on the site of Jesus’s birth for midnight mass,
attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. Hundreds more gathered
outside, watching on screens in the crisp air.

At midnight bells rang out throughout the town, before Archbishop
Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the most senior Roman Catholic official in the
Middle East, led hymns and said prayers.

“At Christmas, all the world looks to us, to Bethlehem,” he said.

Pizzaballa, who had to cross Israel’s separation barrier to get from
Jerusalem to Bethlehem, said it was a difficult time but there was reason for
hope.

“We see in this period the weakness of politics, enormous economic
problems, unemployment, problems in families,” he said.

“On the other side, when I visit families, parishes, communities, I see a
lot of commitment… for the future. Christmas is for us to celebrate the
hope.”

– No mass at Notre-Dame –

The first church was built on the site of Jesus’s birth in the fourth
century, though it was replaced after a fire in the sixth century.

This year, celebrations were bolstered by the return of a wooden relic
believed to be from the manger of Jesus.

Sent as a gift to Pope Theodore I in 640, the piece had been in Europe for
more than 1,300 years before being returned last month, said Francesco
Patton, chief custodian for the Holy Land.

In the square by the church, Palestinian tourism minister Rula Maayah told
AFP it had been a good year, with 3.5 million tourists visiting the city.

But fewer Christians from the Gaza Strip were in attendance than in
previous years, as Israel had granted permits to just around 300 of the 900
or so people who applied, said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to Church leaders
in the Holy Land.

Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, ravaged by fire in April, was unable to hold
its traditional Christmas Eve Mass for the first time in more than 200 years,
with the faithful gathering at other nearby churches instead.

BSS/AFP/RY/1858 hrs