Pope makes Christmas appeal for peace
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict on Tuesday said he hoped Christmas would bring consolation to those living in poverty, injustice and war and appealed for just solutions to conflicts in Iraq, the Holy Land, Afghanistan and Africa.
In his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) Christmas Day message, the Pope also urged people in modern societies to accept the light of Christ and warned that many human tragedies were caused by environmental upheavals.
"May this Christmas truly be for all people a day of joy, hope and peace," he said in his address from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica to tens of thousands of people below.
The address was broadcast live to some 57 countries.
"May the light of Christ, which comes to enlighten every human being, shine forth and bring consolation to those who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war," he said.
Christmas should bring hope to those "still denied their legitimate aspirations for a more secure existence, for health, education, stable employment, for fuller participation in civil and political responsibilities, free from oppression and protected from conditions that offend against human dignity".
The Pope, marking the third Christmas season of his reign, said he was close to society's most vulnerable members, who were often the main victims of conflict and terrorism -- women, children, the elderly, migrants, refugees and evacuees.
He warned that "ethnic, religious and political tensions, instability, rivalry, disagreements, and all forms of injustice and discrimination are destroying the internal fabric of many countries and embittering international relations".
On a day that signifies peace, he said he was close to those living in places where "the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate".
He spoke of Darfur, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, the Holy Land, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Balkans and "many other crisis situations that unfortunately are frequently forgotten".
The Pope made another appeal for environmental protection, saying that the number of migrants, refugees and evacuees "is also increasing because of frequent natural disasters, often caused by alarming environmental upheavals".
Earlier on Tuesday the Pope led the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas with a midnight mass in St Peter's Basilica where he urged people to find time and space for God, the needy and the suffering.
In that midnight sermon, he said the fact that Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the inn in Bethlehem had modern parallels.
"In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him," he said.
"Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others -- for his neighbor, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others."
In the run-up to Christmas, the Pope several times urged Catholics to rediscover its religious significance, lamenting that the holiday had been dominated by materialism.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)
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