PODCAST: Christians Around the World Celebrate Christmas (International Christian Herald 12.27.20)

This is the International Christian Herald podcast. Here are the top stories you need to know about today.

According to the Daily Mail, Christians across the world celebrated Christmas today under unusual circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic. Pope Francis hosted Christmas Eve Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City slightly earlier than usual last night. Bethlehem ushered in Christmas Eve with a stream of joyous marching bands and the triumphant arrival of the top Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land. But few people were there to greet them as the coronavirus pandemic and a strict lockdown dampened celebrations in the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris played host to a Christmas Eve choral concert, an annual tradition in France. In a concession to the fact that the cathedral is still being rebuilt, the choristers wore construction hard hats and boiler suits, and there was no audience. The concert was recorded at the cathedral earlier this month, and was broadcast on French television just before midnight on Christmas Eve. More subdued scenes were seen across the world as the festive family gatherings and packed prayers that typically mark the holiday were scaled back due to the pandemic.

According to the Christian Post, An Egyptian court acquitted three men who led a Muslim mob to strip, beat, spit on and humiliate a Christian grandmother whose son was falsely accused of having a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman. Soad Thabet had to leave her village in Minya governorate in 2016 after the mob attack, during which homes of local Coptic Christians were also burned down. “They haven’t been able to return to their village. It would be nice if they could consider going back, but at this point it’s not even an option. I have no idea where they’ll go,” Coptic Solidarity Director of Development and Advocacy Lindsay Griffin told The Christian Post of Thabet’s family. “When there’s collective punishment, typically people who are forced to leave their villages have to relocate. Some even try to leave the country eventually. They’re elderly, so they probably won’t want to leave.”

According to the Daily Mail, Boko Haram jihadists killed at least 11 people, burnt a church and seized a priest on Christmas Eve in Nigeria’s restive northeast, local sources claimed today. Security agencies had in recent days warned of an increased risk of attack during the holiday season. Fighters in trucks and motorcycles stormed Pemi, a predominantly Christian village in Borno state on Thursday, shooting ‘indiscriminately’ and setting buildings on fire, said Abwaku Kabu, a militia leader. In many parts of Nigeria, communities have resorted to armed vigilantes or militias, who work alongside the army, for self-defence. ‘The terrorists killed seven people, burnt 10 homes and looted food supplies that were meant to be distributed to residents to celebrate Christmas,’ Kabu said. ‘Four more dead bodies have been found in the nearby bushes by search and rescue volunteers,’ local community leader Ayuba Alamson said Friday. ‘This has moved the death toll to 11.’ The number of dead could rise as villagers fled to the bush and some people are still unaccounted for. The assailants, who drove from the group’s nearby Sambisa forest enclave, looted medical supplies from a hospital before setting it ablaze, the militia leader said, adding they also burnt a church and abducted a priest.

According to the Christian Post, International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently announced that enough evidence of crimes against humanity exist in Nigeria to meet the criteria for opening an investigation. Bensouda’s preliminary investigation accused both Islamist terrorist groups and the Nigerian military of crimes against humanity. The lists of offenses are extensive. “Specifically, my Office has concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of Boko Haram and its splinter groups have committed the following acts constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes: murder; rape, sexual slavery, including forced pregnancy and forced marriage; enslavement; torture; cruel treatment; outrages upon personal dignity; taking of hostages; intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities; intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance; intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to education and to places of worship and similar institutions; conscripting and enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into armed groups and using them to participate actively in hostilities; persecution on gender and religious grounds; and other inhumane acts.

According to the Daily Mail, Pope Francis has led a smaller midnight mass than in previous years as he urged peace to masked believers. The spiritual leader of 1.3billion Catholics across the globe celebrated Christmas Eve mass in St Peter’s Basilica. Fewer than 200 people, wearing face coverings, attended the mass, and they were mostly employees of the tiny state of Vatican City. The mass, traditionally held at midnight, had been moved forward by two hours to 7.30pm to meet Italy’s curfew rules. During the message, he expressed his desire to visit crisis-hit Lebanon and urged political leaders in South Sudan to continue working for peace. Before the pandemic hit, several thousand believers and tourists had obtained precious tickets to attend the papal mass. But on Christmas Eve, St Peter’s Square, which is usually filled with people, was deserted. Tough new coronavirus restrictions were imposed on Thursday over the Christmas and New Year period across Italy, the country hardest hit by the virus in Europe. The country had nearly 71,000 deaths and more than two million cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to Yahoo News, Hundreds of millions across the world celebrated pared-down Christmas festivities on Friday due to coronavirus restrictions, as Pope Francis called for vaccines for everyone, describing them as “glimmers of hope in this period of darkness and uncertainty”. The pandemic has claimed more than 1.7 million lives and is still running rampant in much of the world, but the recent launching of mass vaccine campaigns has boosted hopes that 2021 could bring a respite. Like so many across the globe, the pope was forced to break with normal Christmas tradition, holding his annual “Urbi et Orbi” speech by video from the apostolic palace, to prevent a crowd from gathering in St Peter’s Square. “I call on everyone, on leaders of states, on businesses, on international organisations, to promote cooperation and not competition, to find a solution for everyone: vaccines for all, especially the most vulnerable and most in need in all regions of the planet,” he said. In her own annual Christmas speech, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II also spoke of hope during “difficult and unpredictable times”. “Of course, for many, this time of year will be tinged with sadness: some mourning the loss of those dear to them, and others missing friends and family members distanced for safety, when all they’d really want for Christmas is a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand,” she said.

According to Reuters, For the first time since a fire that nearly destroyed it, the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris played host to a Christmas Eve choral concert, an annual tradition in France. In a concession to the fact that the Gothic cathedral is still being rebuilt, the choristers wore construction hard hats and boiler suits, and there was no audience. The concert was recorded at the cathedral earlier this month, and was broadcast on French television just before midnight on Thursday. The choristers performed classical pieces by composers Mozart and Schubert, but also a more light-hearted repertoire, including “Jingle Bells.” “It was very moving,” said cellist Gautier Capucon, describing the experience of recording the concert. Along with an organist, he provided the musical accompaniment for the choir. “It was the first time we had all been back at Notre-Dame cathedral since the fire, so it was a moment full of emotion,” he said in an interview with television station franceinfo. The cathedral, a landmark of Gothic architecture dating to the 13th century and a major tourist attraction, caught fire on April 15, 2019. The blaze destroyed the spire and roof. French President Emmanuel Macron undertook to restore the cathedral within five years. But to date, most work on the site has focused on making the building safe, including clearing up toxic lead from the roof and spire that melted in the fire. In the meantime, Notre-Dame is closed to the public and masses are cancelled.

In closing, remember, God loves you. He always has and He always will. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you don’t know Jesus as your Saviour, today is a good day to get to know Him. Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thanks so much for listening and may God bless your day!