VATICAN CITY/MANILA/ABUJA/BAGHDAD/JERUSALEM (BosNewsLife)– Christmas celebrations have been overshadowed by deadly violence against Christians in Africa and Asia, while several church services in the Middle East were canceled due to concerns over terror attacks.
By BosNewsLife News Center with reports from Vatican, Africa, Asia and Middle East
A series of Christmas Eve attacks and explosions on churches and other sites left as many as 38 people dead in two Nigerian cities. In Nigeria’s northern city of Maiduguri six people died in two separate attacks on churches, including a Baptist pastor, authorities and church officials said.
Police chief Mohammed Abubakar blamed Boko Haram, a radical Muslim sect, for the attacks on Victory Baptist Church and Church of Christ in Nigeria, which included throwing petrol bombs. In the central Nigerian city of Jos over 30 people died in several bombings, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Elsewhere, in the Philippines, at least six people were injured when a bomb rocked an early morning Christmas mass in a church at a military base in Jolo on the Muslim-dominated southern Sulu island, the military said.
Spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Randolf Cabangbang said the Catholic priest celebrating mass was among those wounded. Parts of the roof and ceiling were destroyed, causing the injuries, Cabangbang added. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the separatist Abu Sayyaf movement has been blamed for several bombings on the Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo since the early 2000s and for kidnapping priests and nuns.
Dozens of U.S. army Special Forces have been deployed in the region since 2004 to help train and advise security forces fighting the militants.
While there were no immediate reports of Christians being targeted in the Middle East, several church services were canceled in Iraq, amid concerns over violence and death threats, church groups said.
Yet, several hundred attended a Christmas Day service at Baghdad’s cathedral, surrounded by tight security, while a smaller number went to midnight masss at the city’s Saint Joseph church, witnesses said. “Do not fear — that is the message today,” Father Saad Sirop Hanna, the head priest at the Chaldean Catholic church, reportedly told his congregation.
In Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI prayed for a rebirth of peace in the Middle East and said he hoped Christmas would bring consolation to Christians in Iraq and all the Middle East. The Vatican fears that violence such as an October attack by militants on a Baghdad church that killed 52 people is fueling a Christian exodus from the region.
Although easing of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians enabled more people to attend Christmas celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethlehem this year, Benedict XVI said the festivities marking Jesus’ birth should focus attention on the need for peace.
The leader the world’s over one billion Catholics also encouraged Catholics in Iraq and communist China to resist persecution in his Christmas message read amid heightened security on Saturday. He also criticized China, where recently Catholics loyal to the pope were forced to attend a series of events by the state-backed Church which does not recognize his authority.
Analysts said the events have created more tensions in relations between China and the Vatican.
In Britain, the leader of the world’s Anglicans also urged people to remember those facing persecution because of their Christian faith. “We may feel powerless to help; yet we should also know that people in such circumstances are strengthened simply by knowing they have not been forgotten,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Christmas cheer was sorely tested in parts of Europe where freezing temperatures caused a white Christmas but also transport chaos, with thousands of travelers forced to spend the night in trains or barracks, on ferries or in airports, snow piled up.
The cold hampered some Christmas traditions like the annual swimming race in the lake in London’s Hyde Park which was called off after the water froze, news reports said. Some hardy people reportedly could not resist a quick dip into the icy shallows.
Neither snow nor ice could stop a shining example of Christmas goodwill in Denmark where a midwife traveled more than six kilometers (nearly four miles) on skis to reach a woman in labour Christmas morning on the snow-blocked island of Bornholm, French News Agency AFP reported.
The mother-to-be was finally able to be taken to a local hospital by the Danish army in the afternoon, where she was expected to give birth to a healthy baby boy on Christmas Day.