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By Sabina Castelfranco
Rome
25 December 2008

Pope Benedict XVI delivered his traditional Christmas Day message with an impassioned appeal for peace in the Middle East and Africa.

Pope Benedict XVI delivers blessing during 'Urbi et Orbi' message in St. Peter's square, 25 Dec 2008.<br />
Pope Benedict XVI delivers blessing during 'Urbi et Orbi' message in St. Peter's square, 25 Dec 2008.
The huge crowd in Saint Peter's square cheered as the bands played the Vatican and Italian anthems. Pope Benedict appeared at the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica to deliver his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" message to the City of Rome and to the World, Pope Benedict addressed the faithful and issued a strong appeal for peace in the Middle East and in Africa.

"May the divine light of Bethlehem radiate throughout the Holy Land where the horizon seems once again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians," the pope said.

The pope mentioned Lebanon and Iraq in particular calling for an end to the clashes and violence. He also called for peace in Zimbabwe, Congo, Darfur and Somalia.

The people of Zimbabwe, the pope said, have been trapped for all too long in a political and social crisis which sadly keeps worsening.

Pontiff expresses greetings in many languages

Pope Benedict said he hoped Christmas would bring hope to those suffering from wars, terrorism, injustice and poverty. He then sent his Christmas greetings to the faithful all over the world in 64 different languages.

Pope Benedict XVI blesses children during celebration of Christmas Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, 25 Dec 2008
Pope Benedict XVI blesses children during celebration of Christmas Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, 25 Dec 2008
On Wednesday night, thousands turned out in Saint Peter's Basilica for the Pope's Christmas Midnight Mass. In his homily, Benedict issued an appeal for children who are abused, forced to live on the street or serve as soldiers.

He called on the faithful to help children who are denied the love of their parents and those who are exploited across the world.

Benedict recalled the plight of "street children who do not have the blessing of a family home." He also spoke of minors who are victims of the industry of pornography.

During midnight mass, the pope also turned his thoughts to the Holy Land, which he is expected to visit next May. He prayed for an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

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