In Vietnam, political leaders offered Christmas greetings to Christian clergy (Vietnam News), while tensions between church and state remain high. From Fr. Joseph Nguyen: "Please pray for the Church in Vietnam. As Christmas draws near, we are still at the Golgotha on the Good Friday."
In Iraq, Christmas is being celebrated, despite all the trials of Christians there, with a new openness this year:
"The interior ministry organized a celebration," says Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, "the aim of which was to reward those who have struggled for interreligious dialogue and have carried forward initiatives of peace. It is a gesture of solidarity toward Christians, and an invitation to return to Iraq." The celebration, held on Saturday in the capital, the first public event connected to Christmas, saw the participation of a great number of children (in the photo) accompanied by their families. The celebration was enriched by a tree decorated with Christmas themes, a Santa Claus mingling among the crowd, images of Jesus and of the Virgin Mary, and the flag of Iraq to unite all of the citizens. "Today, all Iraqis are Christians," said Major Abdul Karim Khalaf, spokesman of the interior ministry. "The celebration was a gesture of friendship for Christians," continues Archbishop Sako, "and a symbolic condemnation of the violence that our community has had to endure over the past five years."
In Palestine, thousands of pilgrims are expected to visit the Lord's birthplace, and the area has seen a revival in tourism as hostilities have lessened. The small ancient Christian community there, squeezed between Israelis and Muslim Palestinians, has diminished over the years, but the increase in visitors is helping the local economy.
"The fact that this year so many pilgrims will join us for the Christmas liturgies is a sign that makes us even more sure that we are not the only ones seeking Jesus." Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custodian of the Holy Land, comments on the boom of pilgrimages for the Christmas holidays....
"Sustaining hope ... is the biggest task in the situation in which we find ourselves. For this reason as well, the message for Christmas ends with the affirmation: 'There is still hope for everyone!'" The Custodian explains that "this is an appeal above all for the Christians of the Holy Land. In Bethlehem, their numbers continue to drop, and they suffer the frustration and difficulty of the conditions in which they live. With the wishes for Christmas, I want to recall that the miracle that is taking place is an invitation, in spite of everything, to renew ourselves and our zeal. The fact that this year so many pilgrims will join us for the Christmas liturgies is a sign that makes us even more sure that we are not the only ones seeking Jesus."