FaithWorld

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.

In the worst attack, 52 people were killed when security forces stormed Our Lady of Salvation Catholic church in Baghdad after militants took hostages during Sunday mass on October 31. Iraqi authorities said they had arrested 12 suspected al Qaeda members in connection with the assault.

“We are still deeply wounded from what happened in Our Lady of Salvation church,” Sako said. “We saw innocent people brutally killed while praying to God, so how can we celebrate?”

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.

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.

Wikileaks founder Assange “man of the year” in Naples nativity creches

assange 1 (Photo: Figurine of Jullian Assange by Naples nativity creche creator Gennaro Di Virgilio, in Naples December 6, 2010/Ciro De Luca)

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange may be alone in jail in London, but in the traditional Neapolitan Christmas creches he is in good company — with Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Assange, who is depicted holding his trusty lap top, was created by Gennaro Di Virgilio, who each year chooses at least one contemporary character to sculpt and place near the scenes of the traditional story of Jesus’ birth in a manger.

“I included him to poke a little fun at the world and have a good time,” said Di Virgilio, 29, whose family has been making nativity statuettes and ornate creches since 1830. “In a sense, Assange is the man of the year,” said Di Virgilio, whose tiny shop is one of many on a narrow Naples street named Via San Gregorio Armeno that specialized in Christmas statues, creches and trinkets all year.

There is only one copy of the Assange statuette, which costs 130 euros. Di Virgilio says he will make others on request. There are, however, multiple copies of statuettes of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that Italians can place in the manger with the Holy Family, the wise men, the ox and the sheep.

U.S. atheists and Catholics in holiday billboard fight

atheist billboard (Image: Atheist holiday billboard/American Atheists)

U.S. Catholics and atheists are doing battle over the holiday season with dueling billboards on opposite sides of the Hudson River separating New York and New Jersey.

The American Atheists organization fired the opening shot the Monday before Thanksgiving with its billboard on Route 495 in North Bergen, New Jersey. It tells drivers: “You Know It’s a MYTH,” a slogan set against a traditional nativity scene with three wise men and two figures in a manger.

The Catholic League fired back with its own billboard on the Manhattan side of the Lincoln Tunnel saying: “You Know it’s Real. This Season, Celebrate Jesus,” set against a picture of the infant Christ with his parents, Mary and Joseph. The league, a Catholic civil rights organization, said it responded to the atheists’ billboard because it wanted to counteract what it sees as a negative view of Christmas.