Pope pleads for Mid-East Peace

Braving cold, wet weather, Pope John Paul II called
for peace in the Middle East during his traditional
Christmas Eve Mass at St Peter's Square in the

Pope John Paul II

In his homily the frail 80-year-old pontiff expressed
sadness at the political strife in the Holy Land which
has marred Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem this

The Pope recalled his visit to Bethlehem in March. The
mass has special resonance this year - the 2,000th
anniversary of Christ's birth in Bethlehem.

"I think with concern of the Holy Places, and
especially of the town of Bethlehem, where sadly,
because of the troubled political situation, the
evocative rites of Christmas cannot be celebrated with
their usual solemnity," he said.

"Tonight, I would like to say to the Christian
communities in those places to feel that the whole
Church is very close to them," he Pope said.

Children received a blessing from the Pope

About 350 people - mostly Palestinians - have been
killed in nearly three months of violence in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip.

Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem itself have been

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have returned from
Washington where they had been engaged in talks aimed
at securing peace.

Outdoor mass

"May the Lord hear our plea. From this square, the
centre of the Catholic world, let the angels'
proclamation to the shepherds ring out once more with
strength: 'Glory to God in the highest and peace on
earth to those whom he loves,'" the Pope said.