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Christmas Celebrated Around The World

Pope Benedict prayed for peace in the Miidle East during his traditional Christmas Eve mass at the Vatican. (file photo)
Christmas is being celebrated around the world, with Christians exchanging gifts and greetings to mark the traditional date of the birth of Jesus Christ.

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict led a solemn Christmas Eve mass on December 24 in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

The head of the 1.2-billion-strong Roman Catholic Church prayed for peace in the Middle East, and warned against the distortions of religion by extremists.

Meanwhile, thousands of pilgrims gathered in Manger Square in the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem, the town where Jesus is said to have been born.

Palestinian National Authority President Mahmud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad were among those who attended Christmas Eve mass at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, welcomed visitors to the church by wishing them a "holy and happy Christmas" and sent "the same hearty wishes" to people around the world.

"We assure you, especially those who feel abandoned, of our closeness in prayer, with our wishes and prayers for a happy new year full of health, blessing and prosperity," Twal said.

In Pakistan, Christian communities celebrated amid heightened security over fears of possible attacks by Muslim extremists. Christians are estimated to make up less than three percent of Pakistan's mainly Muslim population.

The pastor at Central Brooks Memorial Church in Karachi, Emanuel Victor, suggested that the message of Christmas was one of peace and love.

"When we speak of brotherhood, harmony, equality and to walk together, then, the message of God is that you must love each other like you love yourselves," he said. "And you must love your neighbors similarly...this is the message of Christmas."

In Afghanistan, hundreds of NATO-led troops celebrated Christmas Eve at a facility at Kabul International Airport. They attended a church service, shared a Christmas meal, and sang Christmas carols..

U.S. soldier Trent Sutlon acknowledged conditions were different than back home, but insisted that there was still plenty of festive spirit.

"Well, of course the holiday season typically is joyful because you get to spend it with your family and friends," he said "...the situation here is a little bit different, you know, being in the environment that we are in. But even then, there is still a lot of things to look around and be thankful for.

"And the other thing that I think is really interesting out here is seeing all of the different nationalities and how everybody kind of celebrates in their own way with makeshift decorations and it is a really cool environment."

Elsewhere, a spokesman said former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, 88, would be spending Christmas Day in a hospital in Houston, Texas, recovering from a fever and weakness amid a struggle with a bronchitis-like cough.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
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