From the Vatican City to New York to battle-worn regions across the world, billions of people celebrated Christmas Eve Wednesday with hopes of bringing peace and charity into the new year.
Pope Francis held a midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, and placed a phone call to a group of mostly Christian Iraqi refugees who have been forced by Islamic State militants to flee their homes.
“You’re like Jesus on this night, and I bless you and am close to you,” the Pope told them. “I embrace you all and wish for you a holy Christmas.”
In the Mass hours later Francis called for more humanity on Earth.
“How much the world needs tenderness today!” he said. “God’s patience, God’s closeness, God’s tenderness.”
Mayor de Blasio, who was planning to attend midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, also called for more togetherness in an email to supporters.
Referring to the recent protests over police violence, and the assassination of two NYPD officers, he wrote, “As we have done together as a city so many times before, we will take this moment as an opportunity not just to heal, but also to grow back stronger and more united than we’ve ever been.”
Even in Gramercy Park — normally locked to the public — the key holders swung open the gilded gates for one hour. Scores of carollers gathered around a towering Christmas tree that was strung with lights and topped with a blue star, singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
They were led in song by members of the St. George’s Episcopal Church choir, accompanied by an acoustic band of an accordion, guitar and the trumpet.
“It’s definitely the most festive thing I’ve done this season,” said Thomas Cho, 33.
Over in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, several thousand Christian pilgrims flocked to the central Manger Square, decked out in lights as vendors hawked souvenirs and Scout troops played bagpipes, horns and drums. Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal called in his midnight Mass homily for Jews, Muslims and Christians to “live together as equals with mutual respect.”
In southern Mexico, where priests have been victims of killings, kidnappings and robberies, Bishop Maximino Martinez led a march with thousand of parishioners, calling for the release of a local pastor who was snatched from a seminary Monday.
With Celeste Katz and News Wire Services