Hong Kong Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops called for social justice in Christmas messages, whilst in Iraq Christians have been forced to curtail festivities that celebrate the birth of Jesus more than 2000 years ago, showing contrasts in one of Christianity's most important feasts.
In Iraq, church officials in the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul in the north, at Basra in the south, and in Baghdad said they would not hold evening mass or put up Christmas decorations. They warned worshippers also not decorate their homes. Even an appearance by Santa Claus was called off.
Iraqi Christians have faced attacks by extremists such as al-Qaida and remember the recent killing of 68 people during a bombing in a Baghdad church two months ago.
"Nobody can ignore the threats of al-Qaeda against Iraqi Christians," Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako in Kirkuk was quoted saying by the Associated Press. "We cannot find a single source of joy that makes us celebrate. The situation of the Christians is bleak."
Hong Kong Catholic Bishop John Tong praised human rights' defenders in China as shining stars directing the wise men from the East to find the infant Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea.
"Today in Hong Kong and in our Motherland a number of shining stars are manifested. For example, [Nobel Peace Prize laureate] Liu Xiaobo, who is in prison for promoting human rights, as well as Zhao Lianhai who uncovered the truth about the tainted milk scandal," Tong said in his Christmas message on Dec. 23.
He also praised clergy from the underground church who are behind bars for defending religious freedom saying they are stars who witness their faith. "I have great respect for all of them. I hope and pray that they will soon be set free, and enjoy their civil rights and freedom of belief, so that they will be able to make an even greater contribution to society and our nation will enjoy an even greater international reputation."
Anglican Primate Paul Kwong, for his part, noted that there is a rising resentment against the rich and powerful in the Hong Kong society. He added it is an unhealthy situation, but understandable, for there are more than 1.2 million people living in poverty, out of the 7 million population. At the same time, the rich are earning more, he said.
"There have been many instances of social injustice recently. While economic profits fall into the hands of a very small number of rich people, the majority work hard, but cannot share in the achievements ... the poor people are disillusioned," Kwong said.
He said that it is the duty of all social sectors, including the government, to improve the situation for social integration. Kwong insisted that the business sector should share its economic achievements with the poor, and the government should build a just and fair environment. "Give people a ray of hope, and don't push them into a corner. That is the core message of Christmas," he said in a statement made available to ENInews.