FaithWorld

Christian-Muslim clashes flare in Nigeria after Christmas Eve bombings

jos (Photo: After an explosion in Nigeria’s central city of Jos on December 25, 2010 picture/Afolabi Sotunde)

Clashes broke out between armed Christian and Muslim groups near the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, a Reuters witness said, after Christmas Eve bombings in the region killed more than 30 people.

Buildings were set ablaze and people were seen running for cover as the police and military arrived on the scene in an effort to disperse crowds. This correspondent saw dozens of buildings on fire and injured people covered in blood being dragged by friends and family to hospital.

The unrest was triggered by explosions on Christmas Eve in villages near Jos, capital of Plateau state, that killed at least 32 people and left 74 critically injured. Pope Benedict condemned the attacks, which killed six people in two churches.

The governor of Plateau state has said the bombings were politically motivated terrorism, aimed at pitting Christians against Muslims to start another round of violence.

Christians, Muslims and animists from a patchwork of ethnic groups live peacefully side by side in most Nigerian cities.

Attack fears cloud Christmas for Baghdad Christians

baghdad (Photo: Pictures of victims killed in an attack of Our Lady of Salvation church shown there on Christmas Eve in Baghdad December 24, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

Normally on Christmas Eve, Ban Zaki puts on festive clothes and takes her family to Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation church for lively holiday celebrations.

Not this year.

Dressed in black and fighting back tears, she has brought her three children to the church to honour her late husband, who was killed along with 51 others when Iraqi forces stormed it after militants took hostages during Sunday mass on Oct 31.

“He died on this spot,” 49-year-old Zaki said, pointing to the marble floor of the Catholic church. “This year, there will be no festivities, no celebrations. The images of the attack and how they killed my husband here in this place are still in front of my eyes. Those were four hours I won’t forget for the rest of my life,” she said.

Indonesian Muslim cleric warns against over-the-top Christmas

indonesia (Photo: Two Indonesian women — the one on the left wearing a Muslim headscarf — pose for a photo in front of a Christmas tree in a shopping mall in Jakarta December 23, 2010/Dadang Tri)

Opulent Christmas decorations at shopping malls in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, could incite anger among non-Christians, the country’s highest Islamic authority said on Thursday. Although 90 percent of the country’s 240 million people are Muslim, the capital’s myriad glitzy malls have been decorated with Christmas lights and bunting — including faux snow, Santas and nativity scenes.

“Christmas describes a certain religion, and if the religion advertises it too overtly — even though they have only a small number of followers — it will cause jealousy and anger from other groups,” said Ma’ruf Amin, of Indonesia’s Ulema Council.

Retailers say the giant Christmas trees, paper mache reindeers and carols serve no religious purpose and are there to attract more shoppers during the holiday seasons. But Amin said over-the-top festivities could hurt existing tolerance.

Pope records special Christmas message for the BBC

pope waves (Photo: Pope Benedict waves from his private apartment in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican January 4, 2009/Tony Gentile)

Pope Benedict has recorded a Christmas message at the Vatican specially for Britain following his successful state visit to the country in September, according to the BBC. It is the first time the pope has addressed a Christmas message specifically to one of the countries visited during the year, the state-funded broadcaster said.

The recording will be broadcast on Christmas Eve in the “Thought for the Day” slot on the BBC Radio 4 current affairs programme “Today.”

“Thought for the Day” lasts about three minutes and has a regular place on the morning programme broadcast Monday to Saturday. It offers a personal perspective, from leaders of a variety of religious denominations, on topical issues.

No Christmas festivities for some Iraqi Christians

iraq christmas (Photo: Refugee Iraqi Christians attend a pre-Christmas mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman December 22, 2010/Ali Jarekji)

Some church leaders in Iraq have told Christians not to celebrate Christmas except with prayer after lethal attacks and continuing threats by militants against the Iraqi Christian community.

“No Santa Claus, no celebrations, no gifts this year,” Archbishop Louis Sako, chairman of the Chaldean archbishops in Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya, said on Wednesday. “We don’t have the right to jeopardize others’ lives.”

In a new threat published on an Islamist website, the local affiliate of al Qaeda threatened more attacks against Iraqi Christians. Insurgent attacks have panicked Iraq’s minority Christian community. Thousands have fled to the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region or overseas.

Michael Bolton sings for the saints in Assisi

bolton 1Michael Bolton has gone from Dancing with the Stars to singing for the saints.

“I feel humbled here,” Bolton said after recording the traditional Christmas concert in the frescoed basilica of St Francis of Assisi with Israeli singer Noa and New York conductor Steven Mercurio. “I feel humbled to be reminded of the teachings of St Francis, which I was introduced to at a very young age. I don’t know anyone who is not moved by his story,” he said. (Photo: Chelsie Hightower and Michael Bolton after the premiere of  “Dancing with the Stars Season 11″ in Los Angeles September 20, 2010/Fred Prouser)

With Giotto’s awe-inspiring frescoes of the scenes in the life of St. Francis on both sides of him, Bolton sang “The Prayer,” “O Holy Night,” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for the concert that will be broadcast on Eurovision on Dec 25.

The Umbrian hill town where St Francis lived 800 years ago is a long way from New Haven, Connecticut, where Bolton was born into a family of Russian Jewish immigrants 57 years ago. “There is something special about this place. I have performed in churches and cathedrals and holy sites but there is something about being in the presence of everything that has been inspired by St Francis,” he said.

Bashir plans Islamic law if Sudan splits, defends flogging woman

sudan (Photo: Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a rally in Gedaref, December 19, 2010/stringer)

Sudan will adopt an Islamic constitution if the south splits away in a referendum next month, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Sunday. The vote on independence for south Sudan is scheduled to start in three weeks and was promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the south, where most follow traditional beliefs and Christianity.

“If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity,” the president told supporters at a rally in the eastern city of Gedaref. “Sharia (Islamic law) and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language,” he said.

An official from south Sudan’s main party criticised Bashir’s stance, saying it would encourage discrimination against minorities in the north and deepen the country’s international isolation.

Iraqi Christians flee to Kurdish areas or abroad – U.N.

iraq (Photo: An Iraqi Christian refugee lights candles at an Orthodox church in Amman on November 7, 2010 for victims of the attack on Our Lady of Salvation church of Baghdad on October 31/Ali Jarekji)

Thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled their homes to semi-autonomous Kurdish areas and neighbouring countries since a Catholic church in Baghdad was attacked six weeks ago, the U.N. refugee agency has said.

Some 1,000 Christian families, roughly 6,000 people, have arrived in the northern Kurdish areas from Baghdad, Mosul and Nineveh, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. Several thousand have crossed into Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Many spoke of receiving threats or leaving out of fear. Fifty-two hostages and police were killed when Iraqi forces tried to free more than 100 Catholics taken hostage during Sunday mass on October 31.

Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Christmas season Bethlehem

bethlehem 1 (Photo: A decorated Christmas tree next to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, December 15, 2010/Ammar Awad)

The birthplace of Jesus is hardly an easy “weekend getaway” spot, but for a taste of how today’s Holy Land feels, this hospitable Palestinian town draped over the steep hilltops outside Jerusalem is an essential place to visit.

Most foreigners fly into Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, an hour away from Jerusalem, and enter via Israeli checkpoints into the occupied West Bank. Security remains tight but there is currently no tension to deter the hardy traveler.

Visitors love to come at Christmas, when a crowded Bethlehem celebrates its most famous date at the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. But the town hosts tourists year round. In the summer it’s hot. In winter, there can be a veil of snow on the rooftops so warm clothing is advisable.

Pope Benedict decries growing Christianophobia in Europe

creche (Photo: Pope Benedict XVI blesses a nativity scene at the Vatican December 15, 2010/Tony Gentile)

Pope Benedict voiced the Catholic Church’s deep concern over “hostility and prejudice” against Christianity in Europe on Thursday, saying creeping secularism was just as bad as religious fanaticism. In the message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace, marked on Jan. 1, he also reiterated recent condemnations of lack of religious freedom in countries in the Middle East where Christians are a minority, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

He said Christians were the most persecuted religious group in the world and that it was “unacceptable” that in some places they had to risk their lives to practise their faith. But he reserved his strongest words for Europe, where the Church says it is under assault by some national governments and European institutions over issues such as gay marriage, abortion and the use of Christian religious symbols in public places.

“I also express my hope that in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel,” he said in the message.  “May Europe rather be reconciled to its own Christian roots, which are fundamental for understanding its past, present and future role in history.”