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Pope Calls for End of Conflict in World's Crisis Zones

Pope Benedict XVI has used his traditional Christmas day message to appeal for an end to the bloody conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. Thousands turned out to hear his words in Saint Peter's Square. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome.

A huge crowd in Saint Peter's Square applauded when Pope Benedict appeared at the central balcony of the basilica to deliver his third Christmas message since his election. After the Vatican band played the anthem, Benedict said: 'A holy day has dawned upon us. Today the Savior of mankind is born.'

Thousands gathered under sunny skies in Rome and listened carefully to the pope's words.

"This is Christmas, " The pope said, "the historical event and the mystery of love, which for more than 2,000 years has spoken to men and woman of every era and every place. It is the holy day on which the great light of Christ shines forth, bearing peace. Benedict added that if we are to recognize and receive it, faith and humility are needed."

The pope expressed the hope that the light of Christ, which comes to enlighten every human being, may shine forth and bring consolation to those who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war.

Benedict said it is the most vulnerable members of society: women, children and the elderly - who are so often the victims of brutal armed conflicts, terrorism and violence of every kind, which inflict such terrible sufferings on entire populations.

The pope said that on this day of peace, his thoughts turned especially to those places where the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate. First he spoke about the African continent, mentioning the tortured regions of Darfur, Somalia, Congo and the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Then he spoke of the Middle East, especially Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land. And then he mentioned Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Balkans.

Benedict urged political leaders to have the wisdom and courage to end these conflicts around the world. At the end of his message, he delivered Christmas greetings in more than 60 different languages. Millions were following him as his message was broadcast live around the world.

On Christmas Eve, before celebrating Midnight Mass inside Saint Peter's Basilica, the pope lit a candle of peace at his study window as a new floodlit Nativity scene was officially unveiled in the square, next to a huge Christmas tree.

This year the larger-than-life-size statues of the baby Jesus and his family have been placed in a Nativity scene set not in a Bethlehem stable, but in a room in Joseph's house in Nazareth.

Vatican officials say the change was made to illustrate the notion that Jesus was born everywhere, not just in Bethlehem.