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Around the world, Christmas observed in face of tensions, crises

December 25, 1996
Web posted at: 10:35 a.m. EST (1535 GMT)

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(CNN) -- Pope John Paul II wished the world a happy Christmas in 55 languages Wednesday but said the spirit of the nativity was marred by tensions in the Holy Land and international indifference to the tragedy in Africa.

Bethlehem, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was born, celebrated its second Christmas under Palestinian rule. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was among those who attended a Christmas Day mass at the Church of the Nativity.

In India, Mother Teresa, recovering from heart surgery, led a Christmas Holy Mass at her Calcutta mission.

Pope promotes peace

The Pope

In the pope's "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message, the 76-year-old leader of the Roman Catholic Church said Christmas meant not being resigned to violence and injustice but striving to overcome hatred and returning to dialogue.

The pontiff, who this year did not celebrate a Christmas Day Mass for health reasons, also celebrated a midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica 12 hours before his "Urbi et Orbi" address. movie icon (617K/14 sec. QuickTime movie)

In his Christmas greeting, John Paul spoke to thousands of people gathered under dark skies in a rainy St. Peter's Square.

He said that while the past year had brought peace to Bosnia, Guatemala and elsewhere, it was sorely lacking in many other places.

"I am thinking of Bethlehem and all the Holy Land, where Jesus was born and lived: the land that he loved, the land where hope must not die, despite provocations and profound differences," he said.

He spoke of "unjustifiable violence" in Algeria, shaken by attacks by Islamic fundamentalists.

In a reference to ethnic bloodshed in central Africa, the Pope said "this young continent is experiencing, amid the general indifference of the international community, one of the cruelest human tragedies of its history."

Bethlehem observances

At Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah delivered an unusually tough sermon, criticizing Israel's rough treatment of Palestinians and religious leaders on both sides who foster extremism.

Outside, workers swept away the debris of the carnival-like Christmas Eve celebrations that drew thousands of Palestinians and tourists.

A joyous crowd of thousands also danced to Arabic pop music, drowning out the words of Sabbah, whose sermon also was projected on an outdoor screen.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

Revered Catholic nun Mother Teresa, 86, was resting on doctors' orders after leading a Christmas Day Mass.

On Tuesday night, the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner noted for her work with the poor and dying also led a Christmas Eve Mass at her mission. It was held four hours before the customary midnight mass out of concern for her health.

Elsewhere in the world:

  • Bosnia -- The Catholic minority in Sarajevo celebrated a subdued Christmas amid a Muslim extremist campaign against Santa Claus and growing fears about the city's multi-cultural future.

    Western officials have reported that extremists were campaigning against school displays of the local version of Santa Claus, "Old Man Frost," which they regard as multi-cultural figure.

    Croat Catholics in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka went without their Christmas midnight Mass on Tuesday night for the fifth consecutive year, amid continuing security fears.

  • Peru -- Christmas carols were sung and volunteers handed out plastic cups of hot chocolate at a vigil outside the besieged Japanese ambassador's residence where 105 hostages were in their eighth day of captivity by Tupac Amaru rebels.

    Red Cross workers delivered Christmas Eve dinner along with sacramental wine and communion wafers for a midnight Mass led by a captured priest who has voluntarily stayed with the hostages. Hot chocolate and traditional Christmas cake also were brought in. movie icon (713K/14 sec. QuickTime movie)

  • Zaire -- Christmas prayers for peace held a special poignancy for civilians in rebel-held eastern Zaire, where they fear a successful counter-offensive by the Zairean army.

    The Roman Catholic cathedral in Goma, the largest city taken by rebels, was packed with hundreds of worshippers for a "midnight" Mass, which ended three hours early because of security concerns.

  • Sri Lanka -- Tamil rebels began an undeclared Christmas truce in their 13-year old war for independence, rebel and government sources said.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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