VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI reappeared in public Friday urging tolerance for migrants in his Christmas message, hours after falling when a woman lunged at him in St Peter’s Basilica the night before.
The 82-year-old pontiff appeared unfazed as he addressed tens of thousands gathered in St Peter’s Square, and millions around the world, urging “acceptance and welcome” for those forced to leave their homes due to hunger, intolerance and climate change.
The pontiff was knocked over by a 25-year-old woman who vaulted security barricades and grabbed him as he made his way to the altar for Christmas Eve mass.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, who described her as “apparently unbalanced,” told AFP she had been admitted to hospital for “necessary treatment”.
Maiolo had tried to approach the pope on the same occasion last year but was stopped by security guards, he said.
In his Christmas Eve homily, the German-born pontiff spoke out against selfishness, as Christians across the world over celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ.
“Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world,” said the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics.
In Bethlehem, thousands of pilgrims celebrated Christmas in the traditional birthplace of Jesus, with festivities on a scale unseen since the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in 2001.
At midnight mass, the seniormost Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land called on the faithful to pray for peace in the Middle East.
“Its inhabitants are brothers who see each other as enemies,” said the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal. “This land will deserve to be called holy when she breathes freedom, justice, love, reconciliation, peace and security.”
Live rock music mingled with traditional carols in Manger Square as thousands of pilgrims and Palestinians joined the festivities, providing some respite for a town living in the shadow of a huge Israeli-built wall.
“This is the place where God gave us his son, so it is very special for me to be here, for me and my whole community,” said Juan Cruz, 27, from Mexico.
Iraq was hit by a string of attacks Thursday that killed 27 people ahead of Christmas.
A senior Iraqi priest in his Christmas sermon urged Christians not to be intimidated by deadly attacks against the minority community but warned they should not linger near churches.
Bishop Shlemon Warduni, the second-most-senior Chaldean bishop in Iraq, said: “If we are alive, God is with us, and if they take away our lives, we will have eternal life. We must be brave, take fear from our hearts, and work and go on as before.”
In the United States, a huge winter storm forced scores of churches to cancel Christmas services as blizzards and freezing rain brought treacherous holiday travel conditions for millions.
At least 19 deaths were attributed to the storm system spanning two-thirds of the nation.
“This is a holiday mess,” said Chris Vaccaro of the National Weather Service. “Its effects run the gamut from severe thunderstorms in the Gulf Coast to ice in New England to really what is a raging blizzard in the lower plains.”
U.S. President Barack Obama left the freeze far behind, starting a family holiday in his native Hawaii cheered by the Senate’s adoption of his health care reforms.
Snow, ice and stormy weather also brought fresh misery to Christmas holiday travellers across Europe, causing disruption on roads, rail and air travel.
Icy temperatures blasted Britain, with temperatures in some part of Scotland sinking to minus 15 degrees Celsius (five Fahrenheit).
The Eurostar rail service linking mainland Europe and Britain, which suffered days of chaos this week when its trains were affected by snow, was running to a modified timetable.
In the Philippines, thousands displaced by an erupting volcano prepared for a White Christmas of a different kind as Mount Mayon spewed snow-like ash and politicians bearing gifts trooped to crowded evacuation centres.
In Liberia, Africa’s first woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, spent Christmas in a notorious former prison camp where political prisoners were once tortured during a bloody dictatorship which ran for a decade from 1980.
In Latin America, Venezuela’s firebrand President Hugo Chavez told his nation to end the gift-giving “insanity” of Christmas and instead reading children stories about independence hero Simon Bolivar.
U.S.-based Cubans meanwhile feted Christmas with their loved ones in their native homeland, following a recent scrapping of U.S. travel restrictions.
Adrian, a 17-year-old who flew in from Florida and was seeing his grandfather for the first time, said: “My parents emigrated 20 years ago and I’m so happy to be able to come and get to know my relatives.”
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