Pope Benedict issues Christmas peace appeal

December 25th, 2008 - 7:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Vatican City, Dec 25 (DPA) Pope Benedict XVI Thursday, in his traditional Christmas Day greeting and Urbi et Orbi message “to the city and the world”, expressed hope for peace in the Middle East and other conflict areas.Referring to Jesus’ birthplace, the pontiff prayed that the “divine Light of Bethlehem radiate throughout the Holy Land, where the horizon seems once again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Benedict’s appeal came against a backdrop Wednesday, Christmas Eve, of militant rocket attacks into Southern Israel and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.

The pontiff is likely to visit Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan in May 2009, according to recent remarks by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal.

Thursday, the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics also mentioned how “God’s saving grace” is desperately sought in Zimbabwe, where human suffering due to political violence has been exacerbated by a deadly outbreak of cholera.

Zimbabweans have been “trapped for all too long in a political crisis and social crisis which sadly keeps worsening,” Benedict said speaking from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica.

Similarly seeking redemption from strife and persecution, are people living in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s war-torn Kivu region, in Darfur, Sudan and in Somalia, Benedict said.

In his message, Benedict stressed what he described as the universal significance of Christmas in which God through the baby Jesus appeared on earth to save mankind.

“He came for all: Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, those near and those far away, believers and non-believers…for everyone,” the pontiff said.

Benedict then repeated in 64 languages his Christmas greeting to the tens of thousands of people gathered in St Peter’s Square and those following the even on television and radio.

“May the birth of the Prince of Peace remind the world where its true happiness lies; and may your hearts be filled with hope and joy, for the Saviour has been born for us,” he said in English.

According to the Vatican, more than 90 television networks in some 60 countries were scheduled to broadcast the greeting.

Hours earlier, Benedict ushered the Vatican’s Christmas celebrations by leading traditional midnight Christmas Mass in St Peter’s Basilica.

In his homily, the 81-year-old pontiff recalled Jesus’ humble birth in Bethlehem and drew attention to the plight of the poor and to that of children suffering neglect and abuse.

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