VATICAN CITY

Pope’s Christmas message to world laced with worry

Iraqi Christians celebrated a somber Christmas in a Baghdad cathedral stained with dried blood, while Pope Benedict XVI exhorted Chinese Catholics to stay loyal despite restrictions on them in a holiday address laced with worry for the world’s Christian minorities.

Saturday’s grim news seemed to highlight the pope’s concern for his flock’s welfare.

In northern Nigeria, attacks on two churches by Muslim sect members claimed six lives, while bombings in central Nigeria, a region plagued by Christian-Muslim violence, killed 32 people, officials said.

Eleven people, including a priest, were injured by a bombing during Christmas Mass in a police chapel in the Philippines, which has the largest Catholic population in Asia. The attack took place on Jolo island, a stronghold of al-Qaida-linked militants.

But joy seemed to prevail in Bethlehem, the West Bank town where Jesus was born, which bustled with its biggest crowd of Christian pilgrims in years.

The suffering of Christians around the world framed much of the pontiff’s traditional Christmas Day “Urbi et Orbi” message (Latin for “to the city and to the world”). Bundled up in an ermine-trimmed crimson cape against a chilly rain, he delivered his assessment of world suffering from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Benedict’s exhortation to Catholics who have risked persecution in China highlighted a spike in tensions between Beijing and the Vatican over the Chinese government’s defiance of the pope’s authority to name bishops. The pope has also been distressed by Chinese harassment of Rome-loyal bishops who didn’t want to promote the state-backed official Catholic church.

“May the birth of the savior strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience,” Benedict said, praying aloud.

MARJAH, Afghanistan

Petraeus visits battle fronts to show support for troops

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan crisscrossed the country on Saturday, making a Christmas visit to coalition troops at some of the main battle fronts in a show of appreciation and support in the 10th year of the war against the Taliban.

Gen. David Petraeus started his visit by traveling in a C-130 cargo plane from the capital, Kabul, to the northern province of Kunduz, telling troops with the U.S. Army’s 1-87, 10th Mountain Division that on this day, there was “no place that (he) would rather be than here” where the “focus of our effort” was.

The northern part of the country has seen increased fighting, with the Taliban stepping up their attacks as NATO focuses its sights on southern strongholds.

In eastern Afghanistan, where NATO forces are focused on trying to prevent insurgents from slipping in from neighboring Pakistan, one U.S. platoon spent their Christmas as they do almost every other day – in a firefight with insurgents. There were no American casualties.

Petraeus’ visits Saturday also took him to the region of one of the main NATO offensives in the south this year: the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Helmand province, scene of some of the heaviest fighting recently with the Taliban.

LOS ANGELES

Mother surrenders newborn at fire station for adoption

Los Angeles firefighters received an unusual Christmas delivery at a downtown station this year: a baby.

With a small bundle in her arms, a woman went to a station near the city’s Exposition Park on Friday afternoon, telling firefighters she wanted to give the child up for adoption, fire spokesman Erik Scott said in a statement Saturday.

The woman, 27, said her daughter was born six hours earlier, Scott said.

“She was still a little red, so she was fairly new. Well-nourished, well-cared for,” fire Capt. Scott Hilton said.

Clean and wrapped in a blanket, the girl was carried inside the station by firefighters, who nicknamed her Noel, in honor of Christmas.A nearly decade-old Safe Haven Law in California allows parents to give up babies up to 3 days old at fire stations, hospitals and other locations without fear of prosecution if there are no signs of abuse.

The newborn was taken to a hospital where she remained early Christmas Day. law, the mother has 14 days to reclaim her.

When she is released, the newborn will be placed with Los Angeles County child welfare officials. She could be put in foster care and made available for adoption.

CHICAGO

Jesse Jackson Jr. defends his service as Illinois representative

Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. says he’s a “public servant,” not a “perfect servant.”

The Democrat tells The Associated Press that even as he’s been dogged by links to disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and questions about his relationship with a female “social acquaintance,” he’s never deviated from his mission of bringing jobs to his Chicago area district.

Jackson says he carries the burden of his “personal shortcomings” even as he tries to help others.

The Democrat spoke after delivering a rousing Christmas message Saturday to hundreds of detainees at Cook County Boot Camp with his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

It was a rare public address for the congressman, who has repeatedly denied interviews since allegations surfaced that Blagojevich may have offered to sell him a Senate appointment.

OAKLAND

Southwest Airlines jet to be checked after fire scare

Maintenance crews will inspect a Southwest Airlines jet that made an emergency landing at Oakland International Airport when the pilot received warning of an engine fire.

Southwest Airlines spokesman Brad Hawkins said the Los Angeles-bound flight landed safely in Oakland minutes after taking off from San Francisco International Airport around 9 p.m. Friday.

As the plane was ascending, a warning siren indicated there was a fire in one of the plane’s engines. Hawkins said the pilot shut the engine down and diverted to Oakland.

None of the 108 passengers and five crew members aboard was injured. The passengers were put on another flight and arrived in Los Angeles before midnight.

Hawkins said crews on Saturday will try to determine whether there was in fact a fire, and if so, what caused it.

CASPER, Wyo.

Two dead, one hospitalized after collision on ski slope

Authorities say two people have died and one is injured after a man on a snowboard collided with a woman and her daughter on skis at a Wyoming ski area.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that the 22-year-old man and the 5-year-old girl were pronounced dead at a Casper hospital after the collision Friday at the Hogadon Ski Area. The mother has been hospitalized but her condition and injuries weren’t available.

No names have been released.

Authorities said the mother and girl were stopped on a ski run when the snowboarder collided with them.