Pope Benedict on Saturday delivered his traditional Christmas message and blessings to thousands gathered in Saint Peter's Square and millions more following him on television around the world. He prayed for a rebirth of peace in the Middle East and encouraged Catholics in Iraq and communist China to resist persecution.
Amid heightened security following the explosion of mail bombs at two foreign embassies in Rome this week, Pope Benedict addressed the faithful from the central balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica on a cold and drizzly winter day in Rome.
He delivered his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Christmas message to the city and to the world. The Pope said the Christmas message of peace and hope was always new, surprising and daring and should spur everyone in the peaceful struggle for justice.
He said: "May the light of Christmas shine forth anew in the Land where Jesus was born, and inspire Israelis and Palestinians to strive for a just and peaceful coexistence."
Benedict said he hoped Christmas would bring consolation to Christians in Iraq and all the Middle East.
The pope also directly criticized China, where recently Catholics loyal to the pope were forced to attend a series of events by the state-backed Church, which does not recognize his authority.
He urged loyal Catholics in China to have courage in the face of communist limits on religious freedom and conscience.
The pope asked God to "grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution, and inspire political and religious leaders to be committed to full respect for the religious freedom of all"
Pope Benedict then wished the faithful around the world a Merry Xmas in 65 different languages.
Slide show of Christmas Around the World