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Pope's Christmas message pushes for peace in Syria, Nigeria

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Pope Benedict XVI delivers his Christmas Day message from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas day in Vatican City.

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict used his Christmas message to the world on Tuesday to say people should never lose hope for peace, even in conflict-riven Syria and in Nigeria where he spoke of "terrorism" against Christians.

Marking the eighth Christmas season of his pontificate, the 85-year-old read his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message to tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square and to millions of others watching around the world.

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In churches and bus stations, on water skis and bicycles, people from the Middle East to middle America celebrate Christmas.

Delivering Christmas greetings in 65 languages, Benedict underscored his view that the hope represented by Christmas should never die, even in the most dire of situations.

Pilgrims, locals mark Christmas in Bethlehem

In his virtual tour of the some of the world's trouble spots, he reserved his toughest words for Syria, Nigeria and Mali.

"Yes, may peace spring up for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which does not spare even the defenseless and reaps innocent victims," he said.

"Once again I appeal for an end to the bloodshed, easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced, and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict."

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics also condemned conflicts in Mali and Nigeria, two countries where Islamist groups have waged violent campaigns.

Reverends Gabriel and Jeanette Salguero of the Multicultural Lambs Church in New York City, talk about how to find the true spirit of Christmas and how to incorporate that into your daily life year round.

Bombings, amputations
"May the birth of Christ favor the return of peace in Mali and that of concord in Nigeria, where savage acts of terrorism continue to reap victims, particularly among Christians," he said.

In Nigeria, the Islamist sect Boko Haram has killed hundreds in its campaign to impose sharia law in the north of the country, targeting a number of churches.

In Mali, a mix of Islamists with links to al Qaeda have occupied the country's north since April, destroying much of the region's religious heritage. They have also carried out amputations to help impose strict Islamic law on a population that has practiced a more moderate form of Islam for centuries.

At midnight mass in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity, the message was of peace, love and goodwill to all mankind. NBC's Martin Fletcher reports.

Benedict also held out a Christmas olive branch to the new government in China, asking is members to "esteem the contributions of religions". China does not allow its Catholics to recognize the pope's authority, forcing them to be members of a parallel state-backed Church.

Late on Monday night, Benedict presided over a Christmas Eve Mass in St Peter's Basilica, where he urged people to find room for God in their fast-paced lives filled with the latest technological gadgets.

"Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for him," he said.

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Archbishop: Christianity still relevant
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who leads the global 80-million-strong Anglican Communion, said in his Christmas day sermon that the answer to the question of whether Christianity had "had its day" was a "resounding no".

"Silent Night" is a favorite carol that has been translated into hundreds of dialects, but it had a most humble birth not far from Salzburg, Austria. NBC's Michelle Kosinski takes a visit to Salzburg to explore the history of the carol from its very beginnings, through its most remarkable performance on Christmas Eve, 1914.

Last month, the Church of England narrowly voted against allowing women bishops - to the dismay of Williams and Prime Minister David Cameron - in a move its leaders said risked undermining its role as the established church in society with clerics in parliament's upper chamber.

The media, many politicians and some members of the public have criticized the Church of England for failing to allow women bishops and for failing to back government plans for gay marriage at a time when it is under pressure to modernize.

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