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Appeals for Peace Around the World as Millions Celebrate Christmas

December 25, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Pope Benedict greeted thousands of followers on Christmas Day, calling for an end to violence in Syria and better resources for the displaced and wounded. In Nigeria, in a region where a radical Islamic sect has previously staged attacks, gunmen killed five Christians. And in Newtown, Conn., worshippers marked a somber holiday.

GWEN IFILL:  Much of the world paused today to observe Christmas.  The day brought all the traditional rites of faith for Christians and a new urgency to calls for calm in the troubled corners of the globe. 

Thousands of the faithful greeted Pope Benedict XVI today at his balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.  In that timeless setting, the pontiff issued a new appeal for an end to violence, especially in Syria. 

POPE BENEDICT XVI (through translator):  May peace spring up for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which has not spared even the defenseless and reached innocent victims. 

GWEN IFILL:  Pilgrims also flocked to the Holy Land for Christmas mass in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, believed to be the site of the Jesus’ birth. 

To the east, in Iraq, security was tight outside a church in Baghdad.  Armed police searched everyone who arrived for the Christmas Day service in a bid to prevent attacks by Islamic militants.  But sectarian violence did erupt in Nigeria for the third Christmas in a row.  Gunmen killed at least five worshipers in the Northeast, where the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram has staged repeated attacks. 

Back in this country, memories of violence and loss were still fresh in Newtown, Connecticut, as townspeople filled Trinity Episcopal Church on Christmas Eve.  Reverend Kathleen Adams-Shepherd focused on the youngest worshipers 10 days after a gunman killed 20 students and six adults at an elementary school. 

REV. KATHLEEN ADAMS-SHEPHERD, Trinity Episcopal Church:  I just want to ask how you are.  Are you good?  You O.K.?  You doing O.K.? 

GWEN IFILL:  Today, visitors stopped by a snow-covered memorial to those lost at Sandy Hook. 

SANDRA JOHNSON, Parent:  As a parent, I just couldn’t move on celebrating unless we came and respected these kids and the adults.  It touched everybody’s heart.  So, I — I just couldn’t move forward without coming this morning early, you know, and just saying a prayer. 

MAN:  We just wanted to come down and show support for the families, obviously, that they will never be the same again, whose holidays will never be. 

GWEN IFILL:  In parts of the country’s midsection, the holiday was marked by bad weather.  Snow was moving from the Ozarks through the Ohio Valley, causing blizzard warnings in Indiana and Kentucky.  Sleet, freezing rain caused a 21-car pile-up in Oklahoma and left cars spinning on icy roads all the way into Western Maryland. 

I tried to back up into here, couldn’t see, backed into this little wooden whatever the heck that is, busted out my side of my back light there.  And now I’m stuck here. 

GWEN IFILL:  Farther south, parts of the Gulf Coast were on alert for tornadoes and powerful thunderstorms.  But the weather wasn’t a problem everywhere.  Down under, where it’s summer, Christmas meant a trip to the beach in Sydney, Australia.  Santa Claus used a paddle board to reach the shore, handing out gifts to waiting children. 

WOMAN:  We’re used to Santa being here in summer.  He is always here in summer.  So, it’s not strange for us at all.  And he comes to Bondi Beach every year.  So, yes, it’s a nice annual thing that we always come to. 

GWEN IFILL:  And it was warmer than usual in Berlin, Germany, for those who take an annual Christmas Day plunge into icy water.  Some wore little more than Santa hats.