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Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Christians celebrate ChristmasPope Benedict XVI lamented the "grim sound of arms" in the world's conflict zones Tuesday in a message of peace echoed by other senior clerics as the world's Christians celebrated the birth of Christ.

Delivering his traditional blessing to thousands of worshippers in St Peter's Square in Rome, the head of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics said: "On this day of peace, my thoughts turn especially to those places where the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate."

He emphasised "the whole of the Middle East -- especially Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land," and singled out Darfur, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and "many other crisis situations that unfortunately are frequently forgotten."

On Christmas eve, the Catholic leader in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, had also pleaded for peace in the Middle East.

"This land of God cannot be for some a land of life and for others a land of death, exclusion, occupation, or political imprisonment," he said in a sermon for midnight mass in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.

"All those whom God, the lord of history, has gathered here must be able to find in this land life, dignity and security," he said, addressing thousands of Christians from all over the world in a sermon delivered in his native Arabic.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas attended the mass fresh from last month's meet in the US city of Annapolis, where he formally relaunched the peace process with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

In the Roman Catholic-dominated Philippines, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales urged the government to address injustices suffered by the country's millions of poor.

"Our prayer and pleading, like a Christian prayer of hope and peace, is for the poor to be paid more attention to in our Christian country's economy and laws. This will eventually bring peace to everyone," he said.

In Indian Kashmir, Muslims joined several hundred Christians at a mass and offered prayers for peace to return to the troubled region.

Thousands also prayed for peace across India's insurgency-wracked northeast, which has a large Christian population.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, Christians offered prayers for victims of last month's cyclone, which killed at least 3,300 people.

"Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by the devastating Cyclone Sidr," Archbishop of Dhaka Poulinus Costa said.

"Many of them are passing these winter nights without food and clothes and in dire condition. Let us stand by their side. Let us pray to God for their welfare," he added.

In London, the head of the worldwide Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, slammed "human greed" in his Christmas sermon, saying it threatened to wreck the earth's fragile environmental balance.

"When we threaten the balance of things, we don't just put our material survival at risk; more profoundly we put our spiritual sensitivity at risk," he said.
Queen Elizabeth II, in her Christmas Day message to Britain and the Commonwealth, said: "All the great religious teachings of the world press home the message that everyone has a responsibility to care for the vulnerable."

Many people, "often unsung and unrewarded," dedicated themselves to helping these people, she said.

"However, each one of us can also help by offering a little time, a talent or a possession, and taking a share in the responsibility for the well-being of those who feel excluded," she added.

In the United States, candidates in the closely-fought battles for the 2008 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations took the day off from campaigning ahead of the final sprint to the January 3 Iowa caucuses, which launch the state-by-state primary process.

President George W. Bush passed the day at his Camp David rural retreat to a traditional meal of roast turkey, sweet potatoes and pies, after making telephone calls on Christmas eve to 10 members of the US military stationed around the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan and aboard ships at sea.

In Colombia, families of dozens of people taken hostage by Marxist rebels waited anxiously for word about a possible release of three of the hostages.
"We hope for my mother's arrival to celebrate Christmas," said Patricia Perdomo, whose mother Consuelo Gonzalez is one of the three whose release has been promised.

In officially atheist China, millions of Christians celebrated Christmas in approved so-called "underground" churches. Countless non-believers however used the day to go shopping


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