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Pope Delivers Christmas Day Message

Pope Benedict XVI (file photo)
In his traditional Christmas Day message, Pope Benedict has appealed for a lasting peace in the world's hot spots such as Somalia, Darfur, and Ivory Coast and called for a peaceful coexistence in the Middle East.

"May the light of Christmas shine forth anew in the land where Jesus was born, and inspire Israelis and Palestinians to strive for a just and peaceful coexistence," said the 83-year-old pontiff during a noon ceremony.

The pope pronounced his Christmas good wishes in 65 languages in his traditional Urbi et Orbi ("to the city and to the world") blessing delivered before the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.

The pontiff called for respect for human rights in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and reconciliation between North and South Korea. He prayed for the people of Haiti suffering from the aftermaths of a devastating earthquake and a recent cholera epidemic.

He also offered words of comfort for Christians living in the Middle East and called on "the leaders of nations to show them effective solidarity."

"May the comforting message of the coming of Emmanuel ease the pain and bring consolation amid their trials to the beloved Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East," the pope said.

China Dispute

Addressing a large crowd from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, the pope mentioned what he called "limitations" imposed by China on the country's Catholics.

"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 but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his church, may keep alive the flame of hope," the pontiff said in his Christmas message.

The pope's reference to China reflects somewhat tense relations between the Vatican and Beijing. The Vatican has criticized the Chinese government's control over the country's Catholic church, including the ordination of bishops without the pontiff's consent.

Earlier this month, the Vatican criticized the state-sanctioned Chinese church, which is not recognized by the pope. Beijing attacked back calling the Vatican "imprudent."

China and the Vatican have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1951.

Security was tight in the Vatican after a woman tried to throw herself at the pontiff at last year's mass.

Some 10,000 people gathered on December 25 in the square. The pontiff's Christmas message was broadcast live by many television and radio stations across the world.

compiled from agency reports