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Pope Celebrates Midnight Mass in Vatican


Pope Celebrates Midnight Mass in Vatican, Pilgrims Mark Christmas in Bethlehem

Christmas Day has arrived in Rome where Pope Benedict is conducting a traditional midnight mass in the Vatican.

Pilgrims have come from across the globe to celebrate Christmas with the pope and to hear his traditional blessing (Urbi et Orbi -- to the City [Rome] and the World).

Millions more are watching the mass on television.

Earlier Monday, Benedict lit a candle for peace in a window looking out over St. Peter's Square, where Vatican officials unveiled an unusual nativity scene. Instead of depicting the birth of Jesus in the traditional manger, this year's scene shows the Nazareth home and carpenter's workshop of Joseph and Mary, Jesus' parents.

Christmas celebrations are also underway in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the place where Christians say Jesus was born.

Tens of thousands of tourists are in the region -- significantly more than recent years when violence between Israelis and Palestinians kept many foreigners away.

From the U.S. presidential retreat in Maryland, President Bush telephoned Christmas wishes to members of the armed forces stationed abroad. Mr. Bush and his family are celebrating the holiday at the Camp David presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command is also doing its part for the holiday, a time when some children await the arrival of Santa Claus. Norad is tracking what it says is Santa's progress on a website complete with Santacam videos and Google Earth backdrops. (www.noradsanta.org).

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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