NATO troops at Mass in Bosnia and Orthodox Christians in the candlelit splendor of Istanbul’s cathedral kept the flames of hope and peace burning on Christmas Day, while in the birthplace of Jesus much of the season’s joy was lost in the sorrow of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
In Indonesia, after a spate of fatal church bombings on Christmas Eve, many Christians stayed away from services today for fear of renewed attacks. Although no one in the mostly Muslim nation claimed responsibility, President Abdurrahman Wahid blamed forces he said were intent on destabilizing the country.
The Catholic Church tried to ease the volatile situation after 15 were killed and nearly 100 people were injured. “Even if we know who is behind the bombings, I urge all Christians to forgive,” Indonesian Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja said today. Bittersweet Bethlehem A weary Pope John Paul II was dismayed by the attacks in Indonesia, where, he said, “our brothers and sisters in faith, even on this Christmas Day, are undergoing a tragic time of trial and suffering.”
In his traditional Christmas Day message “Urbi et Orbi” (Latin for “to the city and to the world”), the 80-year-old pontiff lamented the “endless streams” of refugees from conflicts around the world and spoke particularly of the Middle East, where “violence continues to stain with blood the difficult path to peace.”
In the nato town of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, the Christmas sprit of the past — and the tourism of the present — were subdued by the lingering animosity of three months of Palestinian-Israeli violence. At least 345 people have been killed, most of them Palestinians.
The oppressive atmosphere was not lightened by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who called on Christians and Muslims around the world to wage holy war against Israel. His message appeared on the front page of every newspaper in Baghdad.
About 1,000 miles away, in Istanbul, a more joyous celebration took place. The leaders of 13 Orthodox Christian churches gathered at the city’s Byzantine cathedral to observe Christmas together for the first time in their history, as a culmination of festivities marking the 2,000th anniversary of Christ’s birth.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, in vestments of brocade and gold, led the two-hour service in ornate surroundings as throngs of the faithful crowded the aisles to film with video cameras.
Bartholomew said his church has shown its “concern for the natural environment as well as for peaceful resolution among peoples, nations and various churches.”
Secular leaders, too, expressed their concerns and appealed to the best in their citizens.
Politics Mix With Religion
Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf said he was disappointed by the failure of the world climate talks last month in the Netherlands.
“This is worrying, especially considering that many scientists, already today, see more and more consequences of man’s irresponsible behavior with, for example, a poisoned environment, climate changes and degenerative illnesses as a result,” he said.
Queen Elizabeth II told a vast audience on television, radio and the Internet that the teachings of Jesus were part of the framework of her own life, and said many others had been inspired by Jesus’ simple but powerful teaching to “treat others as you would like them to treat you.”
In a traditional Christmas Eve message, Belgium’s King Albert II warned his country against racism and xenophobia, issues that have gained attention since the electoral success three months ago of a Flemish nationalist party opposed to immigration.
The king also spoke of his recent visit to Belgian peacekeeping troops in the Balkans, saying he was “horrified by the ravages caused in our times and on our continent by extreme nationalism and xenophobia.”
King Albert also used his speech to pay homage to Belgian peacekeepers in the Balkans.
For thousands of NATO troops in Bosnia, Christmas this year meant being far from their families.
Christmas trees and colored lights decorated the U.S. barracks Eagle base in northern Bosnia. Near Mostar, southern Bosnia, soldiers from France, Spain, Italy and Portugal held a dinner, attended Mass and sang songs from all their nations.
At Camp Bondsteel in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo, members of the 4,500-strong U.S. contingent were missing their loved ones.
“I wish I was home for the holidays, but what can you do?” said 28-year-old Capt. Brook Maynelt of Illinois. “There’s a job to be done.”