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Americans Remember Victims, Help the Needy; West Gets White Christmas

December 26, 1988

Undated (AP) _ Americans celebrated Christmas by remembering the victims of the Pan Am jet crash and the Armenian earthquake, while helping the homeless and needy at home with gifts, food and prayers.

Western states enjoyed a white Christmas, with San Francisco and Las Vegas reporting rare snowfalls, while hundreds of Jewish volunteers in Atlanta filled in at hospitals so that workers could spend the holiday with their families. People left homeless by a tornado in Tennessee that killed one and injured 15 on Christmas Eve were given refuge at hotels.

Church leaders urged their flocks to remember the estimated 55,000 people who died and 500,000 left homeless by the Dec. 7 earthquake in Armenia and the 258 people aboard Pan Am Flight 103 who were killed when the plane crashed Wednesday in Scotland.

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, Cardinal John O’Connor said the faith of the families of plane crash victims was heartening. ″Thinking that I would console or encourage them,″ he said, ″I found my own faith deepened instead, by their acceptance of suffering, their willingness to let whatever happens in this world happen, and to know that God still loves them very deeply.″

In Ohio, worshipers gathered at the Hindu Community Temple near Dayton to mourn the death of Om Dikshit, 54, a science professor killed in the crash.

In Boston, Catholics have collected $460,000 for Armenian earthquake victims, with donations still coming in on Christmas, Cardinal Bernard Law said.

″We are overwhelmed and thrilled and very grateful,″ said Phyllis Martins, a member of the parish council of the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church of Greater Boston. ″It’s very heartwarming to know that people of this country and people of the world are so responsive.″

President-elect George Bush and his wife, Barbara, also went to church in Washington, joining a choir from the 19th Street Baptist Church that sang the ″Hallelujah Chorus″ from Handel’s ″Messiah.″

Mrs. Bush told reporters her present from the president-elect ″was just what I asked for″ - a computerized dictionary. She didn’t explain further, but it was believed she referred to a hand-held, calculator-size electronic device. Asked what she gave her husband, Mrs. Bush replied: ″A big, fat kiss.″

At Grand Central Terminal in New York City, about 100 people joined a candlelight ceremony for ″Mama,″ a homeless woman who died there three years ago on Christmas Day. The homeless people then marched to a hotel that prepared a Christmas dinner for about 1,300 needy people.

For Tyrone Scott, 32, one of the marchers, it was his first Christmas on the street. ″I think of my family all the time,″ he said. ″I called them this morning and told them to forgive me for not being there and told them I’d try to get there next year.″

Twelve-year-old Celina Binkley moved into her new home on Thanksgiving but remembered what it was like to be homeless. She was among 25 people at a Christmas Eve vigil in Denver outside a vacant house owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. ″We’re trying to support the homeless. It’s like these people are our family,″ she said.

The spirit of good will prevailed in Los Angeles’ 77th Street police station where officers saved Christmas for a family that lost its presents to a holiday burglar.

Officers who took the report of the burglary were moved when a father tried to explain to his 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son why their presents were gone. The officers passed the hat at the station house and bought the girl a doll and plastic dish set and the boy a fire truck.

Las Vegas reported its first Christmas Day snowfall in the 51 years that weather service records have been kept. Police officer William Walklin said the snow, which began at late afternoon and continued off and on during the evening, accumulated to about half an inch in some areas but mostly melted when it hit the ground.

In San Francisco, where snow fell briefly overnight on the city’s highest elevations, the first snowfall in years, needy people bundled tight lined up outside churches and soup kitchens as early as 7 a.m. At St. Anthony’s Dining Room, volunteers served a turkey dinner to 5,000 to 6,000 people.

″There must have been about 2,000 people out or more in severe cold weather who sought shelter and had no place to go,″ said the Rev. Cecil Williams, pastor of Glide Memorial Methodist Church in the Tenderloin District. ″There was no room at the inn.″

Snow also fell in Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Light snow fell in parts of New York and Michigan.

In the Albany, N.Y., suburb of Clifton Park, worshipers met in the office of the Rev. Bede Ferrara to pray for the 14 American hostages held in Lebanon. ″Christmas time is good time to make people more conscious of people who are ill-treated and held hostage,″ said Ferrara, a Franciscan priest.

In Atlanta, Jewish volunteers in a program by B’nai B’rith let workers in several hospitals spend the holiday at home. ″Everybody involved feels that it promotes brotherhood between Christians and Jews,″ said Neil Freedland, who was working Sunday morning at Northside Hospital. ″My wife and I were saying the other day that when we take off on the High Holidays, there are always Christians filling in for us. ... This is our chance to help.″

The National Safety Council has estimated 350 to 450 were likely to die on the nation’s highways during the holiday weekend.

American Telephone & Telegraph Co. said holiday phone traffic could reach a record 47 million long-distance calls by midnight on Christmas, up about 3 million from last year.

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