Christmas celebrations marked by messages of peace for conflict-ridden world (VIDEOS)
Catholics around the world watched Pope Francis lead late evening Christmas Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the heart of the Vatican. Addressing the faithful, Francis recalled how the birth of Jesus become a “source of hope” in the world. Reciting the story of Mary and Joseph, and Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, “where there was no place for them,” Francis drew parallels to the struggles of modern day refugees.
“So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” the Pope said. “We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away, but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.”
The leader of the Catholic world said God is present in “the unwelcome visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities and our neighborhoods, who travel on our buses and knocks on our door.”
“Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity, into power for a new imagination of charity, a charity that does not grow accustomed to injustice,” Pope Francis added.
The pontiff's message of peace and hope was palpable on Christmas Eve at Saint Paul’s Church in Mosul, Iraq, which paid a heavy price for its liberation by the US-led coalition from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists. Amid the widespread destruction, church bells could be heard ascending the ruins of the city as chimes from Saint Paul’s Church resonated deep hope that peace can finally get a foothold in Iraq, a country that has been plunged into chaos for over a decade.
IS terrorists used the church in Mosul as one of their prisons. The building was severely damaged during the battle for the city, but locals volunteered to rebuild it, installing bells as a symbol of peace and as a triumph over the black Islamist flag. Both Christians and Muslims attended a special service marking the birth of Jesus.
Happening now:For the first time since the Christian residents returned to Baghdida (outside of Mosul) after the defeat of #isis , Christmas Eve and Santa Clause found a way back the city after 3 years of darkness. Congrats 🎁❤️ pic.twitter.com/JSTSLrDtNt— Steven nabil (@thestevennabil) December 24, 2017
“For sure today is a very happy day. We can say that Mosul has been liberated because today there will be the first Christian service in the city for three years,” Uday Al-Adhamy said, sharing his joy with the RT's Ruptly video agency. It is important “as a message of peace for the entire world. The church bells are back again in the city.”
Over in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, which recently exploded in rage over Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, held a service at the Church of the Nativity, the biblical birthplace of Jesus Christ. The service and the procession through Manger Square attracted thousands of worshipers who disconnected from the brutal reality of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, albeit amidst signs in Manger Square proclaiming that “Jerusalem will always be the eternal capital of Palestine.”
Christmas is especially festive, because “we want to show the people that we are people who deserve life, deserve our freedom, deserve our independence, deserve Jerusalem as our capital,” Mayor Anton Salman said during the celebrations.
Christmas was also celebrated in Syria. Apart from Damascus, the observance was particularly prominent in the town of Maaloula, the cradle of Christianity in the country, and the site where Apostle Peter took refuge in his first expedition to spread Christianity. A day before, a festive parade was staged in the port city of Tartus on the Mediterranean coast, where thousands participated in a Santa Claus march.