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Pope Makes Christmas Appeal For Peace In Holy Land

Pope Benedict also appealed for an end to child abuse
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- Pope Benedict said on December 25 he hoped Christmas would bring hope to those suffering from war, terrorism, injustice, and poverty and appealed for peace in the Holy Land.

In his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) Christmas Day message, the Pope also turned his thoughts to those fearful for the future -- including in the world's wealthiest nations, which have been hard hit by the global financial crisis.

"In each of these places may the light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity," he said from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica to tens of thousands of people below.

"If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart."

Benedict is expected to visit the Holy Land in 2009, with possible stops in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

He hoped the region, the site of renewed violence after a truce ended this month between Israel and Palestinian factions led by Hamas militants, could return to the path towards peace.

"May the divine light of Bethlehem radiate throughout the Holy Land, where the horizon seems once again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians," Benedict said, condemning the "twisted logic of conflict and violence."

"May it spread throughout Lebanon, Iraq, and the whole Middle East."

The pope, celebrating the fourth Christmas of his pontificate, also lamented deepening troubles in Zimbabwe, where under President Robert Mugabe a cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,100 people and hyperinflation doubles prices every day.

He said the people of Zimbabwe were "trapped for all too long in a political and social crisis which sadly keeps worsening."

He also cited violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur, as well as Somalia's "interminable sufferings."

Child Abuse

Earlier on December 25 Pope Benedict led the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas at a midnight mass in which he appealed for an end to child abuse in all its forms.

"Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home," he said.

"Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatised to the depths of their soul."

Benedict said Catholics had to "do everything in our power to put an end to the suffering of these children."

In the past year the Pope has repeatedly addressed the issue of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, but did not raise it in his Christmas homily.

Benedict apologized for sexual abuse of minors by clergy and met victims during a July trip to Australia. He also met victims in the United States in April.

Humanity needed a "conversion of hearts" to rid the world of evil, said the Pope.

"Only if people change will the world change and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God," he said.