It’s Christmas day, and millions of Christians around the world are celebrating with religious observances, gifts and family time.
In Bethlehem, thousands celebrated midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, which was built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.
And locally at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, worshipers were celebrating Christmas Eve and throughout Christmas day.
More than 2,000 people came out overnight to enjoy midnight Mass, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan welcomed refugees to the service.
He did not identify them, but they were 17- and 19-year-old brothers who fled terror and the threat of retribution in El Salvador and a Muslim family of five who came from the Ivory Coast.
Dolan also discussed Pope Francis’ visit, which was three months ago Thursday.
Parishioners explained that midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s is something to be experienced.
“It’s magnificent,” one woman said. “The music is great, and Dolan is terrific.”
“I was born in Brooklyn, and we never have been before,” another added. “First time. First time. It was very special.”
In Vatican City, Pope Francis issued a Christmas Day prayer that recent U.N.-backed peace agreements for Syria and Libya will quickly end the suffering of their people, denouncing the “monstrous evil” and atrocities they have endured and praising the countries that have taken in their refugees.
Speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis issued a plenary indulgence for Catholics in hopes of spreading the church’s message of mercy in a world torn by war, poverty and extremist attacks. The sun-soaked St. Peter’s Square was under heavy security, as it has been since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks by Islamic extremists that left 130 dead.
An indulgence is an ancient church tradition related to the forgiveness of sins. Francis announced it after delivering his annual “Urbi et Orbi (To the city and the world)” speech listing global hotspots and his prayers for an end to human suffering.
Francis referred to the “brutal acts of terrorism” that struck the French capital this year as well as attacks in Egypt’s airspace, in Beirut, Mali and Tunisia. He denounced the ongoing conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine and issued consolation to Christians being persecuted for their faith in many parts of the planet.
“They are our martyrs of today,” he said.
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SOURCE: WABC, The Associated Press