Pope Benedict has used his annual Christmas message to the world, calling for peace in global hot spots, including Syria.
The pontiff prayed Tuesday that “peace would spring up for the people of Syria,” a country where tens of thousands have died in anti-government unrest.
As he stood on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica and addressed thousands of pilgrims below, he also called for peace in Mali, where al-Qaida linked militants occupy part of the country, and Nigeria, where Islamist extremists have waged a bloody campaign.
The pontiff also called on Israel and the Palestinians to find the “courage” to negotiate a settlement and asked China's new government to respect religion.
Meanwhile, thousands of tourists from all over the world gathered in the West Bank town of Bethlehem to celebrate the holiday at the place where Christians believe Jesus was born.
Last month the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognized the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state.
In his annual pre-Christmas homily, the top Roman Catholic bishop in the area, Fouad Twal, celebrated that achievement for the Palestinians and urged them to work with the Israelis to end the region's seemingly endless conflict.
Despite cold weather, the festivities continued late into the evening, with some tourists calling it a moving experience.