The pope and world leaders spoke to millions of listeners about hope and peace on Christmas Day. But the season of joy dimmed in some countries, and harsh reality was never far away.
Apparition of peace?
In Rwanda, more than 2,000 Hutus and Tutsis gathered to celebrate Christmas Mass at the Kibeho church compound where students claim they saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary 15 years ago.
The Hutu and Tutsi pilgrims came from all over Rwanda, as they have since the mid-1980s. In 1994, during the Hutu massacre of Tutsis, thousands were killed when they sought refuge at the Kibeho parish church.
Father Calixte Gakurude said in his sermon that he hoped people would begin heeding Mary’s message to work toward peace on Earth.
Caroling in Kabul
In Afghanistan, aid workers marked the capital’s first Christmas under control of the Islamic Taliban army, gathering in Kabul and on a hill above the war-battered city to sing Christmas carols.
“It’s Christmas Eve. A very big holiday for us,” one worshiper carefully explained to curious soldiers standing guard. There was some fear the soldiers might misinterpret the reason for the raised voices singing “The First Noel.”
Peace for peacekeepers
Far from their homes, many of the 33,000 troops spending the holiday with the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia got at least one present from Santa - a white Christmas.
American, British and German soldiers lit candles to pray that peace would hold in Bosnia - as much for their sakes’ as for the Bosnians.