Pa­pal Christ­mas mes­sage:

Pope Bene­dict XVI calls for an end to Syria’s blood­shed.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Frances D’emilio

Pope Bene­dict XVi calls for an end to the slaugh­ter in syria, mean­ing­ful talks be­tween is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans, and more re­li­gious free­dom un­der china’s new lead­ers.

VAT­I­CAN CITY — In his Christ­mas mes­sage to the world Tues­day, Pope Bene­dict XVI called for an end to the slaugh­ter in Syria and for more mean­ing­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans, while en­cour­ag­ing more re­li­gious free­dom un­der China’s new lead­ers.

De­liv­er­ing the tra­di­tional speech from the cen­tral bal­cony of St. Peter’s Basil­ica, Bene­dict also en­cour­aged Arab­spring na­tions, es­pe­cially Egypt, to build just and re­spect­ful so­ci­eties.

The pope prayed that China’s new lead­er­ship may “es­teem the con­tri­bu­tion of the re­li­gions, in re­spect for each other” to help build a “fra­ter­nal so­ci­ety for the ben­e­fit of that no­ble peo­ple.”

It was a clear ref­er­ence to the Chi­nese government’s of­ten harsh treat­ment of Catholics loyal to the pon­tiff in­stead of to the state-sanc­tioned church. Ear­lier this month, the Vat­i­can re­fused to ac­cept the de­ci­sion by Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties to re­voke the ti­tle of a Shang­hai bishop, who had been ap­pointed in a rare show of con­sen­sus be­tween the Holy See and China.

As the 85-year-old pon­tiff, bun­dled up in an er­mine-trimmed red cape, stepped foot on the bal­cony, the pil­grims, tourists and Ro­mans be­low back­ing St. Peter’s Square erupted in cheers.

Less than 12 hours ear­lier, Bene­dict had led a two-hour Christ­mas Eve cer­e­mony in the basil­ica.

In his “Urbi et Orbi” speech, which tra­di­tion­ally re­views world events and global chal­lenges, Bene­dict prayed that “peace spring up for the peo­ple of Syria, deeply wounded and di­vided by a con­flict that does not spare even the de­fense­less and reaps in­no­cent vic­tims.”

He called for eas­ier ac­cess to help refugees and for “di­a­logue in the pur­suit of a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the con­flict.”

Bene­dict prayed that God “grant Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans courage to end long years of con­flict and di­vi­sion, and to em­bark res­o­lutely on the path to ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

Hours ear­lier, in the an­cient Beth­le­hem church built over the site where tra­di­tion holds Je­sus was born, can­dles il­lu­mi­nated the sa­cred site and the joy­ous sound of prayer filled its over­flow­ing halls.

Back at the Vat­i­can, Bene­dict of­fered en­cour­age­ment to coun­tries af­ter the Arab spring of democ­racy protests. He had a spe­cial word for Egypt, “blessed by the child­hood of Je­sus.”

Gre­go­rio Bor­gia / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pope Bene­dict XVI wishes Christ­mas peace to the world, of­fer­ing en­cour­age­ment to coun­tries af­ter the Arab spring of democ­racy protests.

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