- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2000

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Yugoslavia U.S. troops in the volatile Yugoslav province of Kosovo shared a festive Christmas feast yesterday, but for many the joy of the season was tempered by feelings of homesickness for family and friends.

Elsewhere around the world, Orthodox Christians kept the flames of hope and peace burning in the candlelit splendor of Istanbul's cathedral, while secular leaders use Christmas Day messages to appeal to the best in their citizens.

"This is my first Christmas away from home, and I am a bit upset," said Pvt. Christopher Ruffin, 18, of Stockton, Texas, as he stared at his plate of chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli.

"I spent last night trying to get hold of my family and my girlfriend," he said. "I have not yet been able to get them to wish them Merry Christmas."

Pvt. Ruffin's colleague Spec. Paul H. Smith, 28, of Bangor, Maine, said he spent Christmas Eve working out in the gym to take his mind off of homesickness.

"I was working hard because I did not want to think about home," Spec. Smith said. He said his thoughts were of his grandparents in Florida.

Both soldiers, part of the 4,500-strong U.S. contingent to the NATO-led peacekeeping mission, have been serving in Kosovo for about a month. Here their duties include routine patrols to try to stem the flow of rebels and illegal arms from Kosovo into elsewhere in southern Serbia, where ethnic Albanians are trying to drive Serbian forces from the area.

Even though separated from her husband, Capt. Brook Maynelt, 28, of Illinois said she was happy to celebrate the holidays with "good friends, doing good things."

"I am a bit depressed, since my husband is back in Germany, but I have been away for Christmas before," Capt. Maynelt said. "I wish I was home for holidays, but what can you do? There's a job to be done."

About 1,000 miles away, in Istanbul, a more joyous celebration took place. The leaders of 13 Orthodox Christian churches gathered at the city's Byzantine cathedral to observe Christmas together for the first time in their history, as a culmination of festivities marking the 2,000th anniversary of Christ's birth.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, in vestments of brocade and gold, led the two-hour service in ornate surroundings as throngs of the faithful crowded the aisles to film with video cameras.

Patriarch Bartholomew said his church has shown its "concern for the natural environment as well as for peaceful resolution among peoples, nations and various churches."

Secular leaders, too, expressed their concerns in a series of holiday messages.

Sweden's King Carl Gustaf said he was disappointed by the failure of the world climate talks last month in the Netherlands.

"This is worrying, especially considering that many scientists, already today, see more and more consequences of man's irresponsible behavior with, for example, a poisoned environment, climate changes and degenerative illnesses as a result," he said.

Queen Elizabeth II told a vast audience on television, radio and the Internet that the teachings of Jesus were part of the framework of her own life, and said many others had been inspired by Jesus' simple but powerful teaching to "treat others as you would like them to treat you."

In a traditional Christmas Eve message, Belgium's King Albert II warned his country against racism and xenophobia, issues that have gained attention since the electoral success three months ago of a Flemish nationalist party opposed to immigration.

The king spoke of his recent visit to Belgian peacekeeping troops in the Balkans, saying he was "horrified by the ravages caused in our times and on our continent by extreme nationalism and xenophobia."

King Albert also used his speech to pay homage to Belgian peacekeepers in the Balkans.

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