Pope delivers call for peace

The Baltimore Sun

ROME - Pope Benedict XVI called for peace in the Middle East, Darfur and Zimbabwe and stability in other war-torn lands in a particularly politically pointed Christmas greeting to the city and the world.

Delivering his annual "Urbi et Orbi" message from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, he also spoke to the fears of people suffering in the financial crisis.

"Wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations: in each of these places may the light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity," the pope said. "If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart."

Echoing a theme he had struck Wednesday night in his Midnight Mass homily, the pope called for peace in "the Holy Land, where the horizon seems once again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians."

He added, "May it spread throughout Lebanon, Iraq and the whole Middle East."

Talks are under way for the pope to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories as early as this spring, including a visit to Bethlehem in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, although the Vatican has not officially announced the visit.

The Vatican, which opposed the war in Iraq, has been particularly outspoken in its concern about the state of Christians in Arab lands, who increasingly face persecution and emigration.

The pope blessed the efforts of "all those who, rather than resigning themselves to the twisted logic of conflict and violence, prefer instead the path of dialogue and negotiation as the means of resolving tensions within each country and finding just and lasting solutions to the conflicts troubling the region."

This year Pope Benedict added Icelandic, bringing to 64 the number of languages in which he blessed the faithful.

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