Bishop William Murphy decried an American culture of violence and called on Long Island Catholics to choose "life and light" over "sin and death" in his Christmas Day homily at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre.
"Violence has become a hallmark of our own society," he said. "The violence of video games, the violence of film and television, the violence of hate speech and coarse humor that degrades others and insults the dignity of us all."
In a cathedral decorated with wreaths and packed to its 1,200-person capacity with young families, he alluded briefly to the "horrendous" attack at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 young children and six adults dead.
But Americans still have the capacity for gentleness and goodness, Murphy stressed.
After superstorm Sandy barreled through the region, damaging the homes and lives of thousands, he said, "We have shown the true face of Jesus in our care for them and our generosity in the face of need."
Murphy, 72, echoed Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke earlier at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, in calling for peace in civil-war-torn Syria and a solution to decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that recognizes the rights of both peoples.
At St. Patrick's Cathedral, Cardinal Timothy Dolan delivered a hope-filled Christmas message.
"Today, finally, it doesn't happen enough -- bells will chime with joy rather than toll somberly, as has so often happened the past weeks," Dolan said, referring to Newtown and Sandy.
Taking a more global outlook, Murphy chastised countries, "including our own," who supply the arms fueling the Syrian conflict, praying for leaders to abandon "drones and indiscriminate use of weapons" there and elsewhere to subdue those who use violence themselves.
Hours after the pope expressed hope that China's newly installed leaders would "esteem the contribution of the religions," an apparent reference to Vatican concerns over freedom of religion there, Murphy asked his listeners to be wary of any government infringement of that freedom in their own country.
"Government exists to protect life and liberty, not to amend it or force it into compromise," he said, calling on followers of the church to defend "freedom of religion against any and all overt or subtle attacks."
Outside St. Agnes, Maggie Gough, 57, a library director from Freeport whose home was flooded during Sandy, said she came to hear a message of hope. "We finally have walls and a floor. We have reasons for hope," she said.
Sarah Plunkett, 41, and Jake Plunkett, 44, of Rockville Centre, brought their children, Vivian, 1, and Oliver, 2. The children napped through much of the Mass, but their parents listened closely. Afterward, they said they hope for a renewed focus on "peace and love" -- both in Syria and the United States.
"We need to work on that at home," Sarah Plunkett said.