Pope Appeals for Peace in Middle East

By LAMA HASAN, Correspondent, ABC News London

Overlooking St. Peter’s square, Pope Benedict the 16th delivered his traditional Urbi et Orbi speech, Latin for "to the city and to the world". In more than 60 different languages, the Pope wished the faithful a happy Christmas.

Addressing the crowd, he said the "heart of the Christian message is meant for all men and women." The pontiff warned that the world was headed toward ruin if selfishness prevails over solidarity during tough economic times for both rich and poor nations, saying, "if people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart".

The pope also spoke of the plight of Zimbabweans who he said were "trapped... in a political and social crisis".

Celebrations began on Christmas Eve.  As darkness fell, the head of the Catholic Church appeared at his studio window to light a candle, a symbol of peace.

It was followed by a midnight mass in St. Peter’s Basilica where thousands of worshippers listened to the Pope’s homily. 

Appealing for children who are abused, forced to live on the street or serve as soldiers, the pope said we must put an end to their suffering.

"Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home, of those children who are brutally exploited as soldiers and made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace," he said.

"Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatised to the depths of their soul."

He also made a plea for peace in the land where the faithful believe Jesus Christ was born, the holy land, a land marred by decades of violence.

He called for an end to hatred and violence in the Middle East.  The pope said - "Let us think of the place named Bethlehem, of the land in which Jesus lived, and which he loved so deeply…Let us pray that peace will be established there’’

As the pontiff was leaving St Peter’s, a pilgrim tried to leap at him, but was quickly ushered away by a security guard.

In the traditional birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem, a midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity gathered people from different faiths, dignitaries and tourists.  All were united in prayer.   

In Manger Square the festivities continued into the night, with people dancing on the streets.

In a land divided by violence, on this Christmas day, perhaps there’s new hope for a peaceful new year. 

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