Pope Wishes the World a Merry Christmas

Pope Benedict XVI used 60 different languages to deliver the annual Christmas Day message from the Vatican today, appealing to world leaders to find solutions to conflicts around the world to help those "who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war."

Benedict also made an appeal for environmental protection, noting the displacement of millions of people from "frequent natural disasters, often caused by environmental upheaval."

Dressed in a white robe with gold embroidery, Benedict delivered the traditional "urbi et orbi" message from his balcony window. Tens of thousands of men, women and children of different races, ages and nationalities gathered in St. Peter's Square under a bright December sun to listen to the address.

On a day of peace for Christians, the pope said his thoughts were with people living where "the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate."

He mentioned conflicts in Darfur, Somalia, the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, the Holy Land, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Balkans.

Benedict noted that "ethnic, religious and political tensions, instability, rivalry, disagreements, and all forms of injustice ... are destroying the internal fabric of many countries and embittering international relations."

The messsage was delivered hours after Benedict, as leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, ushered in the third Christmas of his reign by celebrating midnight Mass. Some 10,000 people participated in the elaborate ceremony inside St. Peter's Basilica.

In his homily, the pope called on people to set aside time in their lives for God and for the needy. He compared what he called the modern world's rejection of God to the story of Jesus' birth in a manger, because there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the inn.

"In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him," he said.

Those who were unable to fit in the basilica watched on large screens in St. Peter's Square, which was made festive by a towering, twinkling Christmas tree and a life-size nativity scene.

This year's nativity scene, a huge attraction for pilgrims and tourists every year, depicted Joseph's home in Nazareth, not the traditional manger in Bethlehem. Vatican officials said at the unveiling that the change was meant to represent the idea that Jesus was not born in any one place and that he is everywhere for everyone.

Hours before midnight Mass, the pope appeared at his window, lighting a candle and leaving it to burn in the the darkness, a traditional symbol of the hope and peace of Christmas day.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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