Pope Benedict prayed for peace, especially in the Middle East, in his Christmas Eve mass, as Christians around the world prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.
Addressing the faithful in a packed St. Peter's Basilica late Monday, the pontiff called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and their neighbors. He also prayed that the Israelis and Palestinians may be able to live together in peace.
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.
This year's holiday was particularly joyous for their Palestinian hosts, who just last month received United Nations recognition for an independent state of Palestine.
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.
"It's exciting to be here, being at the place where Jesus was born. I'm from America and so, our idea of Christmas sometimes gets a little skewed, you know, sometimes we don't really appreciate the true meaning of Christmas and it's very simple. It's that Christ was born, you know, he came and he died for our sins and that he was raised again from the dead. And so being here in that place it's unlike anything I can imagine on Christmas," said Britney, a U.S. tourist.