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SPECTER OF WAR IN THE GULF HAUNTS CHRISTMAS MESSAGES AT HOME

As they welcome Jesus, the Prince of Peace, on Christmas Day, Christians around the world will be mindful that peace, like the God-child whose birth is celebrated, is fragile.

Spiritual leaders will remind their flocks in sermons and homilies on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that it is ludicrous to be ready for war on the sands of the Persian Gulf while churches everywhere ring with "Peace on Earth, good will to men."

Some clergy will recall, no doubt, that this child, whose humble birth is commemorated with such fanfare, came in peace and grew into a man who preached "blessed are the peacemakers." And all the services, it can be assumed, will include prayers for a peaceful solution to the military crisis that has separated families, created widespread hardship and produced fear and apprehension in every corner of this nation.

Bishop David C. Bowman of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York focuses clearly on the tense world situation in his Christmas message.

"Our observance of Christmas this year is haunted by the specter of a possible war in the Middle East," he declared

"We naturally are concerned about the safety of loved ones who are serving in the armed forces in Saudi Arabia, and we will miss them terribly as our families gather to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace," he said.

Despite the bleakness of the world situation, Christians should be "particularly strengthened by the Christmas message," said Bishop Bowman, who will preach at the Festal Holy Eucharist service at 11 p.m. Christmas Eve in St. Paul's Cathedral, Main Street at Cathedral Park.

The message of Christmas, he said, is: "God is with us and that as followers of the Christ Child we are enlisted to assist God in the work of reconciliation, redemption and bringing peace to this troubled world."

The Persian Gulf situation also was on the minds of Bishop Edward D. Head of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese and Bishop Forrest C. Stith of the New York West Area of the United Methodist Church as they penned their Christmas messages.

"This year, we are keenly aware of our sisters and brothers in the armed forces in the desert in Saudi Arabia and their families who are separated from them. This is a hard Christmas for them," observed Bishop Head.

"In our Christmas prayer this year, let us remember all of those struggling and suffering," he urged.

Bishop Stith pointed out that this is the first generation that has had the means to create life in a test-tube and to destroy creation through military or environmental disaster.

Along with these responsibilities, he said, this generation is now "struggling with our purpose and presence in the Persian gulf," referring to the national debate over the appropriateness of keeping U.S. troops in Saudia Arabia.

Bishop Head and Bishop Stith also deal with other aspects of the Christmas observance.

Bishop Head, who will be principal celebrant at the Christmas Eve midnight Mass in St. Joseph's Cathedral, 50 Franklin St., suggests that, as they decorate their Christmas trees, followers of Jesus think about the spiritual symbolism of both the tree and its decorations.

"The custom was to pick a tree that was always green to represent Jesus, the Christ, who is life forever," he said. "In a certain sense the purpose of the tree is to remind us of Jesus. Jesus is always there to give us life and growth."

Basing his message on the theme that "the angels are still singing," Bishop Stith recalled that "throughout the history of our faith, it is the singing of the angels that has given hope in a sometimes alien land."

While most Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus on Tuesday, some Eastern Orthodox churches, including the Russian and Serbian rites, will not observe Christmas until Jan. 7, the date established by the Julian calendar.

The Rev. Rastko Trbuhovich, pastor of St. Stephen Serbian Orthodox Church, Lackawanna, said that many families who belong to those churches observe both days because their children are confused by the conflicting dates.

"They give gifts on Dec. 25 and have the religious celebration on Jan. 7," he said.

Among the special Christmas worship events announced are Christmas Eve candlelight services at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. in The Chapel, 895 N. Forest Road, Amherst. The celebrations will feature a live, indoor Nativity pageant and the living Christmas tree with 60,000 lights.

A traditional Latin Mass will be offered at 9 a.m. Christmas Day in St. Vincent de Paul Church, Main Street and Eastwood Place, and a centuries-old Swedish Christmas service will be conducted at 6 a.m. Tuesday in the Evangelical Covenant Church, 786 Kenmore Ave.

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