Pope wishes Christmas hope and peace for Mideast


FOR OBAMA, CHRISTMAS IN HAWAII

How President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama spent the sixth day of their holiday vacation in Hawaii on Thursday:

• Sunny Christmas morning: The Obama family gathered in their Kailua rental home to open Christmas gifts and sing carols, the White House said.

• Beach outing: After a few cloudy and rainy days, a sun-soaked Christmas afforded the Obamas the perfect beach day. They joined family and friends at Bellows Air Force Station in Waimanalo, where there’s a secluded beach.

• Mahalo, troops: Later in the afternoon, the president and first lady traveled to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay to visit with and thank service members.

— Associated Press

QUEEN RECALLS CHRISTMAS TRUCE

Queen Elizabeth II used her traditional Christmas broadcast Thursday to call for reconciliation throughout the United Kingdom and to praise medical workers fighting Ebola in Africa. She said it will take time to heal divisions in Scotland, where a referendum was held this year on whether to remain part of Britain, and praised progress resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland. Elizabeth cited the “Christmas truce” in 1914 as an example to be remembered. “Something remarkable did happen that Christmas, exactly 100 years ago today,” she said. “Without any instruction or command, the shooting stopped and German and British soldiers met in No Man’s Land. Photographs were taken and gifts exchanged. It was a Christmas truce.”

— Associated Press

A somber Pope Francis steeped his Christmas message to the world Thursday in sadness for those with little cause for joy — abused children, refugees, hostages and others suffering from violence in the Middle East, Africa, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Anguish for children who suffer maltreatment or violence, including in the recent terrorist attack on a Pakistani military school, tempered the pontiff’s traditional Christmas Day speech, which he delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. A crowd, estimated by the Vatican to number more than 80,000 Romans, tourists and pilgrims, filled St. Peter’s Square for the “Urbi et Orbi” message (Latin for “to the city and to the world”).

“Truly there are so many tears this Christmas,” said Francis, looking solemn and smiling little, in contrast to his often jocular demeanor when addressing crowds.

He lamented that many children are “made objects of trade and trafficking” or forced to become soldiers, as well as those never born because of abortion.

“I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born,” said Francis, referring to the Middle East.

Francis decried the persecution of ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria, along with those from other ethnic and religious groups.

“May Christmas bring them hope,” he said.

Referring to refugees and exiles, he prayed: “May indifference be changed into closeness, and rejection into hospitality.” He expressed hope they would receive humanitarian help to withstand the “rigors of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity.”

The pope also thanked those courageously helping people infected with Ebola in Africa.

In his litany of the world’s troubled places, he denounced hostage-taking in Nigeria, and hoped that reconciliation would prevail over “hatred and violence” in Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels have been fighting against government forces in the east of that country.

While much of his message concerned poor countries, Francis had harsh words for some in affluent nations. He prayed for an end to the hardened hearts “of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalization of indifference.”

Christmas joy will only be realized when weapons are transformed “into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness,” Francis concluded before giving the crowd his blessing.

About an hour after the pope went inside, a protester from the Femen activist group bared her chest and snatched the statue of Baby Jesus in the life-sized Nativity scene at the center of the square, while thousands of visitors were strolling across the space. A gendarme from the Vatican’s security forces hustled away the woman.