Posted: Dec 24, 2012 4:00 PM
Updated: Dec 24, 2012 7:00 PM
Bethlehem enjoys merry Christmas as thousands of pilgrims flock to Jesus' biblical birth town
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) Thousands of Christians from the world over packed Manger Square in Bethlehem Monday to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the ancient West Bank town where he was born.
For their Palestinian hosts, this holiday season was an especially joyous one, with the hardships of the Israeli occupation that so often clouded previous Christmas Eve celebrations eased by the United Nations' recent recognition of an independent state of Palestine.
Festivities led up to the Midnight Mass at St. Catherine's Church, next to the fourth-century Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.
"From this holy place, I invite politicians and men of good will to work with determination for peace and reconciliation that encompasses Palestine and Israel in the midst of all the suffering in the Middle East," said the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal in his annual address. "Please continue to fight for a just cause to achieve peace and security for the people of the Holy Land."
In his pre-Christmas homily, Twal said the road to actual freedom was still long, but this year's festivities were doubly joyful, celebrating "the birth of Christ our Lord and the birth of the state of Palestine."
At Christmas Eve Mass, Pope asks whether people can make room for God in their busy lives
VATICAN CITY (AP) Pope Benedict XVI marked Christmas Eve with Mass in St. Peter's Basilica and a pressing question: Will people find room in their hectic, technology-driven lives for children, the poor and God?
The pontiff also prayed that Israelis and Palestinians live in peace and freedom, and asked the faithful to pray for strife-torn Syria as well as Lebanon and Iraq.
The ceremony began at 10 p.m. local time Monday with the blare of trumpets, meant to symbolize Christian joy over the news of Christ's birth in Bethlehem. As midnight neared, chuch bells tolled throughout Rome, while inside the basilica, the sweet voices of the Vatican's boys' choir resounded joyously.
Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican traditionally began at midnight, but the start time was moved up years ago so as to give the 85-year-old pontiff more time to rest before his Christmas Day speech. That address is to be delivered at midday Tuesday from the basilica's central balcony.
A smiling Benedict, dressed in gold-colored vestments, waved to photo-snapping pilgrims and applauding church-goers as he glided up the center aisle toward the ornate main altar of the cavernous basilica on a wheeled platform guided by white-gloved aides. The platform saves him energy.
Volunteers track Santa Claus' progress, answer questions from Colorado Air Force base
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AP) Most of the thousands of children who call the annual Santa-tracking operation at a Colorado Air Force Base on Christmas Eve ask the usual questions: "Where's Santa, and when will he get here?"
So volunteer Sara Berghoff was caught off-guard Monday when a child called to see if Santa could be especially kind this year to the families affected by the Connecticut school shooting.
"I'm from Newtown, Connecticut, where the shooting was," she remembers the child asking. "Is it possible that Santa can bring extra presents so I can deliver them to the families that lost kids?"
Sara, just 13 herself, was surprised but gathered her thoughts quickly. "If I can get ahold of him, I'll try to get the message to him," she told the child.
Sara was one of hundreds of volunteers at NORAD Tracks Santa who answered more than 41,000 calls by Monday afternoon, program spokeswoman Marisa Novobilski said. The calls were on pace to exceed last year's record of 107,000.
Jack Klugman's son Adam says the veteran actor has died in Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES (AP) Jack Klugman, the prolific, craggy-faced character actor and regular guy who was loved by millions as the messy one in TV's "The Odd Couple" and the crime-fighting coroner in "Quincy, M.E.," died Monday, a son said. He was 90.
Klugman, who lost his voice to throat cancer in the 1980s and trained himself to speak again, died with his wife at his side.
"He had a great life and he enjoyed every moment of it and he would encourage others to do the same," son Adam Klugman said.
Adam Klugman said he was spending Christmas with his brother, David, and their families. Their father had been convalescing for some time but had apparently died suddenly and they were not sure of the exact cause.
"His sons loved him very much," David Klugman said. "We'll carry on in his spirit."
NY gunman kills 2 firefighters, injures 2 others in ambush at blazing house near Lake Ontario
WEBSTER, N.Y. (AP) An ex-con gunned down two firefighters after luring them to his neighborhood by setting a car and a house ablaze early Monday, then took shots at police and committed suicide while several homes burned.
Authorities used an armored vehicle to help residents flee dozens of homes on the shore of Lake Ontario a day before Christmas. Police restricted access to the neighborhood, and officials said it was unclear whether there were other bodies in the seven houses left to burn.
The gunman's sister, who lived with him, was unaccounted for. The gunman's motive was unknown.
William Spengler fired at the four firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. at the blaze in Webster, a suburb of Rochester, town police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first police officer who arrived chased the gunman and exchanged shots.
Spengler lay in wait outdoors for the firefighters' arrival, then opened fire probably with a rifle and from atop an earthen berm, Pickering said.
Bolivia's Morales silent on Hugo Chavez's health after trip to Havana, feeding uncertainty
HAVANA (AP) Bolivian President Evo Morales made a lightning trip this weekend to Havana where ally Hugo Chavez is convalescing after cancer surgery, but was mostly silent Monday on the details of his trip or even whether he met with the ailing Venezuelan leader.
The secrecy surrounding his visit was sure to add to the uncertainty surrounding Chavez's condition, despite reassurances Monday from Venezuelan officials that the president was slowly improving.
The Venezuelan leader has not been seen or heard from since his Dec. 11 surgery. Venezuelan officials have given few specifics about his condition and have offered no information about his long-term prognosis.
Luis Vicente Leon, a pollster who heads the Venezuelan firm Datanalisis, said the government's daily but vague updates on the president's health seem designed to calm anxious Chavez supporters rather than keep the country fully informed. For government opponents, however, he said the updates likely raise more questions than they answer.
"It's more for the Chavez movement than the country in general," Leon said. "There's nothing that one can verify, and the credibility is almost nil."
NY lifeguard who rescued stranded neighbors during Superstorm Sandy drowns in Puerto Rico
NEW YORK (AP) A lifeguard widely praised as a hero after Superstorm Sandy for rescuing neighbors endangered by rolling floodwaters and a fire that destroyed several homes in a small community where grief has been a frequent visitor has died in a surfing accident in Puerto Rico.
The death of 23-year-old Dylan Smith on Sunday brought sadness again to residents of the Belle Harbor section of the Rockaways, which lost several police officers and firefighters in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and was the site of a deadly plane crash just months later.
As word spread that Smith, who used his surfboard to ferry so many people to safety during the late October superstorm, had lost his life, a Heroes of Rockaway Facebook page said: "R.I.P. to Dylan Smith, our Rockaway Hero, tragically died this morning surfing in Puerto Rico. He will never be forgotten."
Troy Bradwisch, who lives on the same street as the Smith family, said the presumed drowning death was "crushing" for the neighborhood.
"It was more shocking than anything," he said. "You can go through the storm and all that, and he goes on vacation to get a sense of normalcy and something like that happens."
Oregon rescuers find 3 snowshoers who were lost for several nights near Mount Hood
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Rescue teams have found 3 snowshoers who got lost on a weekend camping trip near Mount Hood.
The trio was reported in good health, having made it through two nights under the leadership of a mountaineer.
The three set out Saturday on snowshoes and called 911 on Sunday to report they were lost. Although the cellphone connection was sketchy, they said they had food and sleeping bags, said Detective Matt English of the Hood River County sheriff's office.
There was no contact after that until searchers found them Monday.
The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/UY5kzr) identified them as Mark Kelsey, 62, a veteran mountain guide and outdoor survival instructor, Margarita Estrada, 49, and Debra Shindler, 58.
As Newtown, Conn., continues to mourn, some residents look to transform mourning to activism
NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) People drawn to Newtown to share in its mourning brought cards and handmade snowflakes to town Monday while residents prepared to observe Christmas less than two weeks after a gunman killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school.
On Christmas Eve, residents said they would light luminaries outside their homes in memory of the victims. Tiny empty Christmas stockings with the victims' names on them hung from trees in the neighborhood where the children were shot.
"We know that they'll feel loved. They'll feel that somebody actually cares," said Treyvon Smalls, a 15-year-old from a few towns away who arrived at town hall with hundreds of cards and paper snowflakes collected from around the state.
Organizers said they wanted to let the families of victims know they are not alone while also giving Connecticut children a chance to express their feelings about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
At the Trinity Episcopal Church, less than 2 miles from the school, an overflow crowd of several hundred people attended Christmas Eve services. They were greeted by the sounds of a children's choir echoing throughout a sanctuary hall that had its walls decorated with green wreaths adorned with red bows.
Bush spokesman says former president will spend Christmas in hospital after developing fever
HOUSTON (AP) Former President George H.W. Bush will spend Christmas with his wife and other family members in a Houston hospital after developing a fever and weakness following a monthlong, bronchitis-like cough, his spokesman said Monday.
A hospital spokesman had said the 88-year-old ex-president would be released in time to spend the holiday at home, but that changed after Bush developed a fever.
"He's had a few setbacks. Late last week, he had a few low-energy days followed by a low-grade fever," Jim McGrath, Bush's spokesman in Houston, told The Associated Press. "Doctors still say they are cautiously optimistic, but every time they get over one thing, another thing pops up."
He said the cough that initially brought Bush to the hospital on Nov. 23 is now evident only about once a day, and the fever appears to be under control, although doctors are still working to get the right balance in Bush's medications. No discharge date has been set.
"Given his current condition, doctors just want to hang on to him," McGrath said, adding that he didn't know what had caused the fever.