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Pope Celebrates Christmas Mass at Vatican, Urges Faithful to Shun Pride, Deceit

Pope Francis celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican Tuesday, as Christians from across the globe gathered for religious services marking the birth of Jesus.

In St. Peter's Basilica, the 77-year-old Argentine pontiff, who has stressed simplicity and humility during his brief papacy, urged people to turn away from pride, deceit and self-seeking. The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics urged the faithful to instead reaffirm their love for "God, our brothers and sisters."

Earlier, thousands of Christian pilgrims descended on the West Bank town of Bethlehem -- the biblical birthplace of Jesus -- to celebrate Christianity's highest holy day.

A giant figure of Santa Claus greeted visitors in Manger Square, outside the centuries-old Church of the Nativity -- the site where Christians believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Officials reported a heavy turnout in the town, where 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.

In his homily, the patriarch told Mr. Abbas he prays for "a just and equitable solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Twal, himself a Palestinian, also lamented strife and suffering in Africa and Asia.

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.