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Last Updated: Monday, 25 December 2006, 11:42 GMT
Pope urges Mid-East peace efforts
Pope Benedict XVI greets worshippers in Rome, 25 Dec 06
The Pope reiterated his desire to visit the Holy Land

Pope Benedict XVI has called for fresh efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and Africa, in his traditional Christmas message to pilgrims in Rome.

The Pope spoke of the "many grave crises and conflicts" in the Middle East and voiced "hope that the way will be opened to a just and lasting peace".

He also deplored the conflicts in Darfur and other parts of Africa.

He lamented the many deaths from hunger and disease around the world in "an age of unbridled consumerism".

The Pope noted man's scientific advances in the modern age, but added that in the 21st Century "perhaps he needs a saviour all the more" because so much of humanity was still suffering.

His "Urbi et Orbi" speech was delivered from the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. It is his second Christmas as pontiff.

The Pope contrasted scientific breakthroughs such as the internet and decoding of the human genome with what he called the "heart-rending cry" for help from those dying of hunger, thirst, disease and poverty.

Some people remain enslaved, others are victims of religious or racial hatred, he noted.

The threats to the individual's personal and moral integrity had become more insidious in the modern age, the Pope said.

His earlier Midnight Mass sermon focused on the plight of suffering children.

He singled out those forced to fight as child soldiers, to beg and those "who suffer deprivation and hunger" and "children who are unloved".

Middle East focus

The Middle East turmoil was a central theme of the Pope's Christmas message.

"I place in the hands of the divine Child of Bethlehem the indications of a resumption of dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which we have witnessed in recent days, and the hope of further encouraging developments," he said.

He also issued an "appeal to all those who hold in their hands the fate of Iraq, that there will be an end to the brutal violence that has brought so much bloodshed to the country".

His message was broadcast live on television to more than 40 countries.

He said he would like to visit the Holy Land as soon as circumstances permit.

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