Pope Francis has called for peace in South Sudan and other troubled nations around the world in his first Christmas Day address.
The 77-year-old Argentine pontiff spoke to tens of thousands of people Wednesday in St. Peter's Square, celebrating one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar.
In his first "Urbi et Orbi" message -- "to the city and world"-- he called for "social harmony" in South Sudan and dialogue to end the conflicts in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Syria. He said he also prayed for a favorable outcome to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem -- the biblical birthplace of Jesus -- pilgrims filled the fourth-century church marking the place where tradition holds that Jesus was born. The church's ancient halls were lit with candles and filled with the sounds of prayer.
On Tuesday in Bethlehem, Jerusalem's Latin patriarch Fuad Twal celebrated a Midnight Mass attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. European Union officials and Jordanian dignitaries were among those in attendance.
Bethlehem is about one-third Christian, with most of its 25,000 residents identifying themselves as Muslims. In an annual gesture of good will, Israel permitted more than 500 members of Gaza's small Christian community to pass through Israel to reach the Bethlehem celebrations.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a holiday radio and Internet message praising the "service and sacrifice" of U.S. troops and military families. He noted that with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over, fewer men and women in uniform are deployed in harm's way than at any time in the last decade. The president recorded the message before leaving Friday for a two-week vacation in Hawaii, his home state.