Pope urges end to 'hatred and violence' in Mideast on Christmas message
25 Dec 2008
VATICAN CITY: December 24, 2008. Pope Benedict XVI urged Thursday an end to "hatred and violence" in the Middle East during his midnight mass Christmas homily ahead of a planned trip to the region.
"Let us pray that peace will be established there, that hatred and violence will cease," he said in his homily, referring in particular to Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
Jerusalem's Latin patriarch said on Monday that the pope would visit the Holy Land in May on his first trip to the region as pontiff.
"With joy we would like to announce to you the desire of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to visit the Holy Land as a pilgrim next May," Fuad Twal, the Catholic leader in the Holy Land, told reporters.
It was the first official confirmation of Benedict's widely mooted first trip to the region since being elected pope in 2005.
"The supreme pontiff wishes to pray with us and for us, and to acquire a first-hand knowledge of the hard conditions of our region," Twal said in his Christmas message.
"We are confident in the Lord that this pontifical pilgrimage and pastoral visit will be a blessing for all of us as well as a substantial contribution to better understanding among the various nations of the region, lifting the barriers and helping solve the problems, removing distress and consolidating good relations among people, religions and denominations," Twal said.
He did not give specific dates. "We are studying the programme with the local authorities," he said. Last week the Italian newspaper Il Foglio said the pope would travel to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories from May 8 to 15.
The head of the Catholic Church in his Christmas homily also spoke of the plight of children "who are denied the love of their parents."
"Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home, of those children who are brutally exploited as soldiers and made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace," he said.
"Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatised in the depths of their soul."
Late Wednesday Benedict inaugurated this year's Christmas creche, appearing at his window in the Vatican apartments to light a candle and greet the crowd in St Peter's Square.
The nativity scene depicting the birth of Jesus Christ erected in the famous piazza features figures dating from 1842.
Benedict's predecessor John Paul II paid homage to Italy's longstanding artistic tradition of manger scenes with the first of an annual series set up in St Peter's Square in 1982.
The inauguration of this year's creche was followed by a prayer vigil for peace led by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's "foreign minister".
At midday on Thursday the pope is to deliver his traditional address titled Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) to be translated in 64 languages. AFP