In her traditional Christmas message to the nation, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II reflected on her bittersweet memories of 2002. It was a year filled with festivities marking her half-century on the throne. But it was also a year which saw the death of the queen's mother and sister.

For the British monarchy, the past 12 months have represented the best of times and the worst of times.

In her annual Christmas broadcast, Queen Elizabeth spoke of her feelings of personal loss with the death of her mother and her sister, Princess Margaret.

But this sadness, she said was tempered by the tributes paid to her as she toured Britain, participating in the numerous events marking her 50 years on the throne.

In the taped broadcast from Buckingham Palace, the queen said it was her faith that got her through the sometimes difficult year. "Like others of you who draw inspiration from your own faith, I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel. Fortified by this, and the support you have given throughout the last 12 months which has meant so much to me, I look forward to the new year, to facing the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and to continuing to serve you to the very best of my ability each and every day. A happy Christmas to you all," she said.

While the queen did not elaborate on what she saw as the specific challenges ahead, many in Britain are concerned about what will happen in Iraq. And mindful of this, the religious leaders here have all spoken about the subject in their Christmas messages.

The head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams; and the leading Catholic here, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, both prayed for a peaceful solution to the international community's dispute with Iraq.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor stressed that war must not be seen as inevitable, while Dr. Williams warned that any military attack would simply create more suffering and chaos among civilians.