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Millions Pray and Hope for Lasting Peace on Christmas

  • VOA News

A Swiss Guard stands as Pope Francis delivers his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message from the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Dec. 25, 2016.

Christmas was marked around the globe Sunday with sincere wishes that hopes for world peace expressed all day will last all year.

In Bethlehem, where believers say Jesus was born, Palestinian boy scouts and girl scouts held a festive Christmas celebration with a march through Manger Square. They carried Palestinian flags as they passed a giant Christmas tree decked out in gold, in front of the ancient Church of the Nativity.

Pope Francis used his Christmas Day message to call for the guns to fall silent in Syria, where he said "far too much blood has been spilled." He also appealed to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to "have the courage and the determination to write a new page of history."

He told Christians that materialism has "taken Christmas hostage...we have to set it free."

Pope Francis delivers the Urbi et Orbi (Latin for ' to the city and to the world' ) Christmas' day blessing from the main balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Dec. 25, 2016.
Pope Francis delivers the Urbi et Orbi (Latin for ' to the city and to the world' ) Christmas' day blessing from the main balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Dec. 25, 2016.

Several hundred Iraqi Christians attended Mass in their hometown near Mosul as both a sign of hope and defiance.

Once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians, Bartella, on the outskirts of Mosul, fell to Islamic State in August 2014.

Worshippers were bused to the town Christmas Eve from the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital of Irbil, where they have been living.

As bells pealed before the service, women joyously wailed when they stepped into the church. Almost everyone held a lit candle during the service conducted in Aramaic and Arabic.

About a dozen U.S. military servicemen and a 100-man contingent from the Iraqi military also attended the service in a sign of solidarity with the worshippers.

Assyrian priest Yacoub Saady said, "This is the mass of defiance. We, the Christians, are the oldest component of this country. We are staying put and no power can force us to leave."

Iraqi Christians attend a Mass on Christmas Eve at the Mar Shimoni church in Bartella, Iraq, Dec. 24, 2016. Iraqi forces freed Bartella in October from IS control, but residents have not been able to return. They were bused in for the service.
Iraqi Christians attend a Mass on Christmas Eve at the Mar Shimoni church in Bartella, Iraq, Dec. 24, 2016. Iraqi forces freed Bartella in October from IS control, but residents have not been able to return. They were bused in for the service.


Obama, Trump send greetings

U.S. President Barack Obama enjoyed Christmas morning with his daughters and first lady Michelle in Hawaii before spending much of the day with U.S. Marines at Kaneohe Bay. Obama telephoned U.S. soldiers, sailors and Marines stationed around the world to thank them for their service.

President-elect Donald Trump enjoyed his Christmas at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, and also tweeted Hanukkah greetings for the Jewish festival of lights, which coincides with Christmas this year.

In one of the more unusual U.S. Christmas traditions, George Washington's legendary crossing of the Delaware River in 1776 during the American Revolution was reenacted for the 64th year.

About 10,000 history buffs and the curious stood on both sides of the river, in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania and Titusville, New Jersey, to watch the participants in their continental army uniforms.

One group of celebrants had the best perspective of Earth on Christmas Day -- the crew of the International Space Station.

They enjoyed Christmas dinner, including food specially prepared and canned by a French chef forFrance's Thomas Pesquet.

U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson said seeing the planet as a whole reinforces what she called the need to live as one people and strive for peace.

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