Friday, December 25, 2009
Woman knocks down pope at Christmas mass
Pope Benedict XVI is assisted as he leads the Christmas mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24, 2009. A woman jumped over a barricade at the start of Pope Benedict's Christmas Eve mass on Thursday and lunged at the pope, who was knocked to the floor in the confusion but then resumed the service apparently unharmed.Photograph by: Max Rossi, ReutersVATICAN CITY — An apparently deranged woman knocked Pope Benedict XVI to the ground after vaulting over security barricades in a dramatic start to Christmas Eve mass at St Peter's Basilica.
Video footage showed the woman in a red sweatshirt leaping over the barricade and grabbing the 82-year-old pope as he began the traditional procession to the altar on Thursday.
The pontiff emerged unharmed and later delivered his homily undaunted, speaking out against selfishness as Christians across the world celebrate 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 Catholics.
The woman, described as "apparently unbalanced" by the Vatican spokesman, was arrested by Vatican police, the ANSA news agency reported.
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 top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land called on the faithful to pray for peace in the troubled region.
"Its inhabitants are brothers who see each other as enemies," the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal told worshippers. "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.
In the United States, a huge winter storm forced scores of churches to cancel Christmas Eve 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 country.
"This is a holiday mess," said Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for 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."
The northern parts of the massive system were expected to drop up to two feet (60 centimetres) of snow by Christmas Day while blizzard warnings were issued from North Dakota to Texas.
U.S. President Barack Obama left the freeze far behind, starting a family holiday in his native state of Hawaii cheered by a major health reform victory.
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 Scotland bearing the brunt of the freezing weather as temperatures sank to minus 15 degrees Celsius (five Fahrenheit) in some parts of the country.
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".
Russia's former imperial capital of St. Petersburg was covered in the heaviest snowfall since 1881, with 14 centimetres (5.5 inches) of snow snarling traffic.
In the Philippines, thousands of people displaced by an erupting volcano prepared for a "White Christmas" of a different kind as Mount Mayon sprayed ash and politicians bearing gifts trooped to crowded evacuation centres.
Local authorities warned residents not to venture to within eight kilometres (five miles) of the crater because of the hazards posed by scalding ash and red-hot lava.
Rescuers were combing waters off Manila for at least 23 people missing after a ferry smashed into a trawler Thursday, the latest in a spate of deadly disasters. At least four bodies have been found.
Iraq was hit by a string of attacks Thursday that killed 27 people ahead of Christmas and the Shiite ceremony of Ashura, which commemorates the death of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.
Venezuela's firebrand President Hugo Chavez sought to put a damper on festivities, telling countrymen to end the gift-giving "insanity" of Christmas and instead reading children stories about independence hero Simon Bolivar.
"For the love of God, let's halt this, let's put the brakes on this consumerist, capitalist insanity, that leads us to lose our spiritual values," he said.
And in the City of London, a restaurant asked diners to sign a legal waiver before tucking in to traditional Christmas pudding in case they hurt themselves on silver charms inside.