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Christmas Marked Around the World

December 26, 1997

Hopes for peace, prayers for the suffering and messages of reconciliation filled churches and homes on Christmas, but the joyous holiday was not free from intolerance and memories of loss.

In his Christmas message to the world Thursday, Pope John Paul II worried about the homeless and the jobless, and prayed for refugees fleeing anarchy and children needing protection.

The spiritual leader of the Church of England echoed those words, urging all people to take more responsibility for the poor and the hungry.

``Christmas asserts the importance of family life and living in community with each other,″ Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said in Canterbury Cathedral. ``It tells us that there will only be peace on earth and goodwill towards one another when we rightly balance our demands for our rights with the recognition of our responsibilities to our neighbor.″

To show solidarity with the suffering, the pope announced during his ``Urbi et Orbi″ message _ Latin for ``to the city and to the world″ _ that he will travel to Italy’s earthquake-ravaged central region next week.

That trip comes just weeks before he visits Cuba, where Christmas was a holiday for the first time in nearly three decades. President Fidel Castro made the one-time gesture in honor of the pope’s visit.

Cubans slept in and relaxed Thursday after low-key Christmas Eve dinners with family and friends and midnight Masses that drew thousands of faithful and curious to packed churches.

``I just came to see,″ said Jesus, 37, watching from the thick wooden cathedral doors. ``I remember the Christmas trees at my grandparents’ house, the Christmas dinners. And then they just disappeared.″

Still, he refused to give his full name.

Despite worldwide hopes for peace and forgiveness, Bosnians celebrating the holiday were met with nationalist pamphlets hung across Sarajevo and rocket fire in the southwestern town of Mostar.

The fliers plastered on walls around the capital told Muslim residents not to ``participate with Christians in celebrating their holidays″ and were signed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Organization of Active Islamic Youth.

In Mostar, a rocket fired from the Croat-controlled western half of the city into the Muslim-ruled east hit an apartment. No one was injured.

But many in Sarajevo ignored the divisive message on the fliers. Bosnian Serbs, Croats, Muslims and Jews attended Mass together to hear prayers for those of all religious faiths affected by Bosnia’s 3 1/2-year war.

``This pamphlet is nonsense. Whoever made it obviously knows nothing about this country and this town,″ said Mirsada Catic, a Muslim who attended Mass in Sarajevo with her Catholic boyfriend, Zoran Jermovic.

When the Muslim holiday of Ramadan begins next week, Jermovic said, ``I’ll be celebrating it with Mirsada’s family, the same way she was celebrating Christmas with my family.″

``Isn’t it better to have two holidays and two families instead of one?″

Some used the day to remember loved ones. In her Christmas broadcast, Queen Elizabeth II contrasted the pain of Princess Diana’s death with the happiness of her own 50th wedding anniversary this year, saying that sadness and joy were interwoven in everyone’s life.

Television footage showed Diana’s sons, Prince William, 15, and Prince Harry, 13, somberly entering Westminster Abbey for her funeral Sept. 6 _ and in a lighter moment, laughing with their father before a service there Nov. 20 for the queen and Prince Philip’s wedding anniversary.

``Joy and sadness are part of all our lives,″ she said. ``This interweaving of joy and woe has been very much brought home to me and my family during the last months.″

The British princes attended services Thursday with their father at the parish church in Sandringthe same church where their mother was christened. More than 1,000 well-wishers gathered outside and showered them with Christmas presents, candy and flowers. Both boys smiled and thanked people for their good wishes.

The queen, too, expressed hope that more fortunate people would give comfort to those who were alone or bereaved.

More than ever, she said, the world needs ``the kindness and consideration for others that disarms malice and which allows us to get on with one another with respect and affection.″

The pope, despite his worries about suffering in the world, also saw many reasons for hope.

``Today there resound more strongly the voices of those who give themselves generously to breaking down barriers of fear and aggression, promoting understanding between peoples of different religious creeds,″ he said, standing on the balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

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