The pope asked Sunday the 1.3 billion Catholics of the planet not to ignore the tragedy of migrants often “expelled from their land” by leaders ready to “shed innocent blood,” in a Christmas homily calling for “hospitality.”
The Argentinian Jorge Bergoglio, grandson of Italian migrants, made the fate of refugees one of the fundamental themes of his pontificate started almost five years ago.
“Nobody should feel that he has no place on this Earth,” he said in his traditional Christmas Eve homily, preceding his fifth Christmas message, to the more political tone he will address Monday.
Another spiritual highlight of Christmas Eve, the midnight Mass in ancient Bethlehem, where Jesus was born according to the New Testament, did not escape the tensions of the moment.
Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the high-ranking Roman Catholic dignitary of the Near East who celebrated the Mass, exhorted the Christians, “worried and perhaps terrified of the diminution of (their) number” in a region in full tumult.
He blasted the wars waged by “today’s Herods to become bigger, occupy more space,” referring to the former King of Judea.
In ancient Bethlehem, today in the West Bank, Israel’s occupied Palestinian territory, he could not help but stand out from his planned speech to evoke Donald Trump’s unilateral decision on December 6 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. ‘Israel.
Traditional churches have already expressed their disapproval. But Bishop Pizzaballa insisted: “Jerusalem is a city of peace, there can be no peace if one is excluded”, he said, relying on the principle already stressed that Jerusalem must be a city for two peoples and three religions.
“Jerusalem is our mother” and if the mother loses one of her children, she “can not find peace, so let’s pray for Jerusalem”, he said in his homily delivered in the presence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trump’s decision provoked almost daily protests in the Territories, and tarnished the Christmas party for Palestinian Christians.
On the Place Mangeoire, the atmosphere was gloomy, despite the Christmas carols broadcast by loudspeakers.
A few hundred Palestinians and foreign tourists braved a cold wind near the Church of the Nativity built on the site where, according to tradition, Mary gave birth to Jesus, to watch a parade of Scouts. In the evening, the first heavy rains for quite some time have again darkened the spirits.
“It’s sad,” “people do not go out,” Nahil Banoura, a Christian-born Palestinian from Beit Sahour, told AFP.
Christmas back in Mosul
For Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel does not prejudge only the outcome of negotiations, the status of which should be the subject of the negotiations.
It denies the Arab identity of East Jerusalem, occupied and annexed by Israel, and undermines their aspiration to establish there one day the capital of their future State.
In a statement, the Palestinian president again denounced the US decision, calling on “the Christians of the world to listen to the (…) voices of the Christians of the Holy Land who categorically reject the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”.
Speaking Sunday at a press conference in Khartoum, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he discussed Jerusalem with the pope. “It’s not just about Muslims, but about Christians and the whole of humanity,” he said, stressing that new steps must be taken after the Security Council votes and at the UN General Assembly.
In Syria and Iraq, two countries where the jihadist Islamic State (IS) group was expelled in 2017 from the vast majority of territories it had conquered three years ago, Christian minorities are returning this year with the Christmas celebrations.
This is the case in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, taken over by government forces in July with the help of an international anti-jihadist coalition.
Although only a small portion of Christians in this city came back, Christmas carols resounded again Sunday in St. Paul’s Church where red and white hangings hid part of the stigma of the war.
The Chaldean Patriarch Mgr Louis Sako called on the dozens of faithful present to pray for “peace and stability in Mosul, in Iraq and in the world”.
In Syria, in the other former stronghold of the IS, Raqa, taken back in October by a coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces, it will be necessary to wait before returning to the spirit of Christmas: even if two historic churches were cleared the inhabitants have not returned yet.
In Homs (center), on the other hand, the Christian community celebrated Christmas for the first time since the total revival of this city by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the end of the fighting, with recitals, a procession and performances for children.
In Damascus, the streets of predominantly Christian neighborhoods, such as Bab Touma, were decorated with miniature fir trees adorned with gold or silver glitter.
The situation of Eastern Christians, however, remains precarious, as in Egypt, where the Copts, who will celebrate Christmas on January 6, are regularly victims of attacks by extremists.
On Friday, a church in southern Cairo was attacked by hundreds of people who destroyed furniture and attacked worshipers before security forces intervened, according to Atfih’s archdiocese.
In Europe, where the jihadist threat remains, nearly 100,000 members of the security forces are mobilized Sunday and Monday in France on the occasion of Christmas, including around tourist sites and churches, according to an official source.