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Christmas

Pope Francis celebrates Christmas mass at Vatican

In his Christmas Eve homily, Pope Francis said Christmas has been "taken hostage" by dazzling materialism. He urged compassion for children, notably victims of war and migration, but also those "not allowed to be born."

Leading the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas for the fourth time since being appointed pontiff in 2013, Pope Francis said on Saturday night that a world full of commercialism and self-centeredness needed more humility.

"When the lights of commerce cast the light of God into the shadows; when we are concerned for gifts, but cold toward those who are marginalized."

In unscripted remarks, the pope added: "This worldliness has taken Christmas hostage. It needs to be freed."

"If we want to celebrate Christmas authentically, we need to contemplate this sign: the fragile simplicity of a small newborn, the meekness of where he lies, the tender affection of the swaddling clothes. God is there," the Pope said at the St. Peter's Basilica service.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas Eve

Opposition to abortion

The pontiff also urged Catholics to feel compassion for children, particularly those who have become victims of war, migration and homelessness - but also those "not allowed to be born."

According to Save the Children at least 600 children died this year while attempting the perilous Mediterranean migrant crossing to Europe, with thousands of others also being killed or left traumatized as a result of the Syrian Civil War.

Children are "hiding underground to escape bombardment" or "on the pavements of a large city, at the bottom of a boat overladen with immigrants", the pope said, before reiterating his opposition to abortion.

"Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by the children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one satiates their hunger, by those who do have not toys in their hands, but rather weapons," he said.

Tighter security

In light of the deadly terror attack in Berlin on Monday, security was stepped up ahead of Saturday's Christmas Eve mass. St. Peter's Square was cleared out six hours before the mass started at the basilica so that security procedures could be put in place for the 10,000-strong crowd which attended the service later that night.

On Christmas Day, on Sunday, Pope Francis is due to deliver his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" ("To the City and to the World") blessing and message from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

ksb/kl (AFP, AP dpa)

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