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Pope Calls for Mideast Peace During Christmas Message

Thousands of people turned out in Rome's Saint Peter's Basilica to take part in Pope Benedict XVI's Christmas Eve midnight mass to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

The solemn music of the choir celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. Thousands took part in the ceremony. Those who were unable to get inside the church braved the cold night in Saint Peter's Square and watched the mass on giant television screens. The celebration was broadcast via satellite to more than 65 countries.

In his homily, Pope Benedict said God appeared as the baby Jesus more than 2,000 years ago to ask for love the same way every child asks for love.

He appealed for children who are abused, forced to live on the street or serve as soldiers. Speaking in Italian, the Pontiff said everything must be done to put an end to the suffering of these children, who are "made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace".

The Vatican's Christmas festivities began several hours before the mass with the unveiling of the Nativity scene next to the Vatican's largest-ever Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Pope appeared at his studio window to light a single candle in a sign of peace.

On Thursday, Pope Benedict is scheduled to deliver his twice-yearly Urbi et Orbi Christmas message to the city and to the world in which he is expected to touch on matters of Vatican and international concern.