TENS of thousands of Christians have flocked to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas, with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem calling for reconciliation in the Arab world after a year of upheaval.
In Rome, thousands of the faithful gathered in the Vatican’s St Peter’s Square as night fell for the blessing of a giant Nativity scene to the sound of accordions, hurdy gurdies and Christmas carols.
Pope Benedict XVI appeared at his window to light an oil lamp for peace and make the sign of the cross as a blessing to the crowd in the square below.
Peace was also a central theme in Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal’s Christmas homily to be delivered in Bethlehem.
“We ask for peace, stability and security for the entire Middle East,” the homily reads.
Twal, the most senior Roman Catholic in the Middle East, urges “the return of calm and reconciliation in Syria, in Egypt, in Iraq and in North Africa” in the text of a speech published ahead of delivery at midnight mass in the place of Christ’s birth.