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Christians Celebrate Christmas; Pope Benedict Issues Spiritual Wake-Up Call

Christians around the world are celebrating Christmas Sunday with prayers for peace.

In his first Christmas message of his papacy, Pope Benedict called for a new world order in which humanity united against terrorism, poverty, the proliferation of weapons, pandemics and environmental destruction. He said there are signs of hope in Iraq, the Holy Land and Lebanon.

The pope delivered his "Urbi et Orbi" (To the City and the World) message and blessing to tens-of-thousands of pilgrims gathered Sunday in rain-soaked St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. He then wished the cheering crowd a merry Christmas in more than 30 languages.

In Bethlehem, thousands of foreign pilgrims braved cold and rainy weather to visit the historical birthplace of Jesus and attend Mass.

In China, where religion is tightly restricted by the government, millions marked Christmas at both state-approved and unregistered churches.

Most Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25. Sunday also marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah, an eight-day festival of lights.

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