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Pope Francis' Christmas wish: Hope for a better world

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SummaryPope Francis said he hopes for a better world, including successful Middle East negotiations in the land of Jesus' birth...

In his speech on Christmas Day, Pope Francis said he hopes for a better world, including successful Middle East negotiations in the land of Jesus' birth, peace for Syria and several war-torn African countries, and dignity for refugees fleeing misery and conflict.

Francis spoke from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to some 70,000 cheering tourists, pilgrims and Romans in the square below. He said he was joining all those hoping "for a better world."

Among places ravaged by conflict, Pope Francis in his message singled out Syria, which saw its third Christmas during civil war, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Iraq.

Pope Francis prayed that Jesus, the "prince of peace," would "bless the land where you chose to come into the world and grant a favorable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Heal the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq, once more struck by frequent acts of violence." Francis then explained his concept of peace.

"True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It's not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions," the pope said in his first Christmas message since being elected pontiff in March. "Peace calls for daily commitment," Francis said, reading the pages of his speech which were ruffled by a chilly wind.

With a reference to attacks on Christians in Africa and parts of the Middle East, Francis prayed that God "protect all who are persecuted in your name."

Recalling the hundreds of migrants who drowned trying to reach European shores, Francis also prayed that refugees receive hope, consolation and assistance.

In the Mideast, pilgrims celebrated Christmas Day in the ancient Bethlehem church where tradition holds Jesus was born, as candles illuminated the sacred site and the joyous sound of prayer filled its overflowing halls.

This year's turnout has been the largest in years in Bethlehem, and the celebrations have been marked by careful optimism amid ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Leaders expressed hope that the coming year would finally bring the Palestinians an independent state of their own.

The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, led a prayer

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