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Pope urges religious tolerance, peace in Christmas speech

The pope appealed for global peace and called for solidarity with Christians living in troubled regions during his annual Christmas Day message to the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

The pope delivered greetings in over 65 languages

Pope Benedict XVI has delivered his annual Christmas Day message, calling for an end to conflicts in the Middle East and other troublespots around the world.

In his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) speech, Pope Benedict XVI said the Christmas message of peace and hope was always new, surprising and daring and should spur everyone in the peaceful struggle for justice.

"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," he said from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City to throngs of worshippers gathered below.

"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," he said.

"May it bring them comfort and hope for the future and bring the leaders of nations to show them effective solidarity," he added.

'Patience and courage'

A Christian worshiper walks underneath a banner that reads the lord has risen, alleluia shortly after mass at one of Beijing's state controlled churches

Religion is strictly state-controlled in China

The pontiff also prayed for peace in troubled African nations and sent a message to Catholics in China to resist persecution.

He prayed that Christmas would "strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China" and decried "the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience."

Benedict asked God to "grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution, and inspire political and religious leaders to be committed to full respect for the religious freedom of all."

The pope went on to deliver Christmas greetings in 65 languages throughout the ceremony, which took place under tight security following parcel bomb attacks at two embassies in Rome this week.

The 83-year-old leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics has endured heavy criticism in the last year, after hundreds of accusations surfaced against pedophile priests around the world.

Extremist violence

Iraqis inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in front of a Syrian Catholic Church, in Baghdad

Catholics are regularly targeted in Iraq

This year's message from the pontiff came as Christians in some regions faced persecution. Attacks marred Christmas festivals on Saturday as church leaders called for peace and reconciliation.

In the Philippines, a bomb exploded in a church during a Christmas mass wounding six people including the priest.

"There is a possibility that this could be the handiwork of [al-Qaeda-linked group] Abu Sayyaf because they have been perpetrating similar attacks against the Catholic church," military spokesman Lieutenant Randolph Cabangbang said.

In the northern Nigerian city of Kano on Friday, suspected Islamist sect gunmen attacked a church during Christmas Eve services but were fought off by soldiers, a military spokesman said.

In Bethlehem, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, the Middle East's senior Catholic bishop, also offered a message of solidarity with Iraqi Christians.

"We recall the tragedy that struck the Christian community in Iraq. Such fanatic actions are universally condemned by Christians and Muslims," he said, referring to recent bloody attacks including a raid on a Baghdad church that killed 44 worshippers and two priests on October 31.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP, Reuters)

Editor: Toma Tasovac

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