VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Francis on Christmas Day is wishing for a
better world, with peace for the land of Jesus' birth, for Syria and
Africa, as well as for the dignity of migrants and refugees fleeing
misery and conflict.
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, Francis singled out Syria, South Sudan, the Central African
Republic, Nigeria and Iraq. He also prayed for fruitful peace talks
between Israelis and Palestinians.
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 worshipers 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.
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 lies 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.
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
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.
Check out some of our most read stories from 2013:
#shortyellows: Florida quietly shortened yellow lights
Terrorism Warning: Memo says terrorists practicing dry-runs on Florida flights
Kittens shot: Officer shoots kittens in front of children
Courtroom apology: Woman apologizes for flipping off judge
Weird ice: Strange, giant circles appear on frozen pond
Controversial Club: College student organizes "White Student Union"
CFO Trouble: School administrative chief in trouble over her porn sex blog
Warning Shot Wife: Mother gets 20 years for firing warning shots at abusive husband
Science Arrest: Teen girl arrested over science project explosion
Wait, WHAT?? Dog shoots man in the leg with a handgun
Popular photo galleries:
Faces of Meth: Devastating before and after photos of meth abusers
Trayvon Martin Shooting: Trayvon Martin crime scene photos and George Zimmerman injury photos
Hooters Winners: Winners of the 2013 Hooters swimsuit pageant
Rejected: Funny Florida license plates rejected by the DMV***warning graphic***
Deadly sinkhole: Home collapses, man dies in giant sinkhole
Florida Sex Offenders: Look up sex offenders in any Florida neighborhood here
Restaurant Inspections: Look up inspection reports for any Florida restaurant here
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)