Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Rome: Pope appeals for calm amid 'winds of war' in Christmas Day address

The pope noted the enduring clashes in Iraq and Yemen, where, he said, "There is an ongoing conflict that has been largely forgotten."

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | Int'l Desk
Source/Credit: Arkansas Online
By Democrat-Gazette Staff | December 26, 2017

Francis’ Christmas address spotlights Holy Land strife

ROME -- Pope Francis used his annual Christmas Day address Monday to make clear his concern that serenity is sorely lacking at a time when the "winds of war" and an "outdated model of development" are taking a toll on humanity, society and the environment.

Addressing a crowd from a balcony at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, the pope delivered his annual Christmas address -- the Urbi et Orbi, Latin for "to the city and the world."

The pope took particular aim at areas of global tension, notably the Middle East, where President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital has ignited new violence.

"On this festive day, let us ask the Lord for peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land," the pope said. "Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders."

The pope also called for the healing of war-torn Syria and Ukraine and prayed that "mutual trust may increase" on the Korean Peninsula. The pope, a native of Argentina, hoped that Venezuela "may resume a serene dialogue among the various elements of society for the benefit of all the beloved Venezuelan people."

In recent days, the pope has said on Twitter that a true celebration of Christmas would free the holiday from consumerism and the "worldliness that has taken it hostage!"

He has urged the faithful to instead focus on the "fragile simplicity of a newborn baby. That's where God is."

It was that image that he returned to in his Christmas remarks, urging Rome and the world to see the baby Jesus "in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians."

The pope noted the enduring clashes in Iraq and Yemen, where, he said, "There is an ongoing conflict that has been largely forgotten."

The Christmas message has become an occasion for popes to survey suffering in the world and press for solutions. Francis urged that "our hearts not be closed" as the inns of Bethlehem were to Mary and Joseph before Jesus' birth.

He recalled the children he met in his recent visit to Burma, which hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled because of violence, and Bangladesh, which has taken in those refugees across the nations' shared border. The pope said Monday that he hoped the international community would "not cease to work to ensure that the dignity of the minority groups present in the region is adequately protected."

He asked the world to contemplate the children of African nations including South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. Picking up on remarks he made at a Christmas Eve Mass that served as a papal mission statement, Francis again spoke out for migrants and the "many children forced to leave their countries to travel alone in inhuman conditions, and who become an easy target for human traffickers."


For Nigerians, though, the chief concern on Christmas was a fuel crisis that had people lined up at gas stations for hours.

The government and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. were working to address the issue "as quickly as possible," Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was cited as saying in a statement emailed by his office Monday. "People have gone through a lot of pain and anguish in the past few days, and that is deeply regretted."

In the northern city of Kano, many filling stations had run out of gasoline on Christmas. Nigeria has capped the government price of gasoline at about $1.51 a gallon, and some in the country said stations that still had gasoline were selling it for about 50 percent higher, or $2.25.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest producer of petroleum, but it lacks adequate refining capacity and imports at least 70 percent of its oil needs. A government pledge to end these purchases and curb shortages over the next two years has attracted investors, including Africa's richest man, Aliko Dangote, who is constructing a 650,000-barrel-a-day refinery.

Emmanuel Kachikwu, the minister of state for petroleum, has attributed the current fuel shortage to a delivery gap between Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. and other suppliers.

In Europe, the Catalonia region's secession movement was on the mind of King Felipe VI of Spain, who used his traditional Christmas Eve address to call on the region's newly elected parliament to renounce further moves toward independence.

"The way forward cannot once again lead to confrontation or exclusion that, as we now know, only generates discord, uncertainty, anguish," he said in a televised speech.

The king gave the address four days after regional parliamentary elections resulted in separatist parties being voted back into power. Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, had dissolved the previous parliament after it voted in October to declare Catalonia an independent republic.

The king said 2017 has been, "without a doubt, a difficult year for our commonwealth, a year marked, above all, by the situation in Catalonia," adding that the region's leaders "must face the problems that affect all Catalans, respecting their diversity and thinking responsibly in the common good."

The king's previous televised address was on Oct. 3, two days after Catalonia's regional government disobeyed a court injunction and held a referendum on secession. In that address, the king harshly criticized the Catalan government as disloyal.

His tone was more conciliatory for the holiday address, when he recognized that while Spain had grown into a fully integrated member of the European Union, "not everything was a success."

Information for this article was contributed by Jason Horowitz of The New York Times; by Sophie Mongalvy and Mustapha Muhammad of Bloomberg News; and by staff members of The Associated Press.

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