On Christmas, Pope Francis Wishes for Better World - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

On Christmas, Pope Francis Wishes for Better World

Pope Francis delivering his first traditional Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on December 26, 2013. (Photo: CBS) Pope Francis delivering his first traditional Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on December 26, 2013. (Photo: CBS)

VATICAN CITY (CBS/AP)- Pope Francis on Christmas Day is wishing for a better world, with peace for the land of Jesus' birth, Syria and Africa, as well as for the dignity of migrants and refugees fleeing misery and conflict.

Delivering his first annual Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) address, Francis spoke from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica Wednesday to tens of thousands of tourists, pilgrims and Romans in the square below.

He said he was joining in the song of Christmas angels with all those hoping "for a better world," and with those who "care for others, humbly."

Among places ravaged by conflict, the pontiff singled out Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Iraq. He also prayed for fruitful peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

On Tuesday, Francis celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, urging people to shun pride and selfishness and open up their hearts to God and their fellow man. 

Francis, who last March became the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, celebrated the solemn Mass for some 10,000 people in a packed St. Peter's Basilica as hundreds of others watched on mega-screens in the square outside. 

On Monday Francis has visited his predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, to exchange Christmas greetings. 

Elsewhere, Pilgrims celebrated Christmas Day Wednesday in the ancient Bethlehem church where tradition holds Jesus was born, as candles illuminated the sacred site and the joyous sound of prayer filled its overflowing halls.

This year's turnout has been the largest in years in Bethlehem and the celebrations have been marked by careful optimism amid ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Leaders expressed hope that the coming year would finally bring the Palestinians an independent state of their own.

The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, led a prayer for some 1,000 worshippers as bells rang and tourists from around the world flocked to the fourth-century Church of the Nativity complex to see the grotto that is Jesus' traditional birthplace.

"The whole world now is looking at Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus," Twal said in his annual address. "The Holy Land is where Jesus was born in the grotto and we have to reflect this bright picture of Jesus by representing the morals of Jesus, the message of Jesus - the message of love and reconciliation."

Bethlehem is 6 miles south of Jerusalem. Entry to the city is controlled by Israel, which occupied the West Bank in 1967.

Following a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, the numbers of visitors to Bethlehem had plunged, including for Christmas.

But thanks to a period of relative calm, they have been steadily climbing in recent years - and while still below the record levels of the 1990s, got an extra push this year following the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Iskandar Salameh, an 18-year-old Palestinian, said the Christmas spirit was uniting those gathered Wednesday.

"We all feel that Jesus is with us today," he said.


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