War, crisis mark Christmas message .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} ISTANBUL - War and economic hardship loomed over Christmas celebrations across the world yesterday, with Pope Benedict XVI pleading for an end to "hatred and violence" in the Middle East.

From Jesus Christ's traditional birthplace, the ancient town of Bethlehem, to the sun-washed beaches of Australia, Christians and non-believers alike took time off to mark the festive holiday as world leaders reflected on the grim backdrop. "May the divine light of Bethlehem radiate throughout the Holy Land, bringing forth rich fruit from the efforts of all those who shun the twisted logic of conflict and violence," Pope Benedict XVI said in his traditional address in St Peter's Square. The traditional papal Christmas Day message "Urbi et Orbi," Latin for "to the city and to the world," usually covers the globe's hot spots.

However, this year Benedict also addressed the gloomy economic conditions worrying many across the planet. Benedict spoke out strongly against greed, saying self-interest would destroy the world. "Our world will certainly fall apart ... if people look only to their own interests," the German pontiff said.

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, thousands of Christians turned out in the largest numbers since the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, braving the cold to bring festive cheer to the troubled region.

"On this night, the silence of the grotto will be even louder than the voice of the cannons and submachine guns," Catholic Patriarch Fuad Twal told pilgrims at a midnight mass in the church, reported Agence France-Presse.

Despite the messages of peace there were constant reminders of war and conflict in many parts of the world.

Some 150 Palestinian pilgrims waiting to leave Gaza to cross Israel to celebrate Christmas in the West Bank had a close call when a mortar bomb fell on the border terminal, the Israeli army said. In Afghanistan, a British marine was shot dead in the southern province of Helmand on Christmas Eve, and a U.S. trooper was killed in an attack in the east of the country on the same day, military authorities said. Iraq's Christians quietly celebrated Christmas with a present from the government, which declared it an official holiday for the first time. But security worries overshadowed the day for many, particularly in the north where thousands of Christians have fled to escape religious attacks.

Christmas truce
In the Philippines, the military and 5,000 rebels declared ceasefires in the country where more than 80 percent of people are Christian.

Other world leaders reflected on the economic hardship brought on by the worldwide credit crunch that has sparked recession and job losses.

"Christmas is a time for celebration, but this year it is a more somber occasion for many," according to advance extracts of Queen Elizabeth II's broadcast from Buckingham Palace in London. Barack Obama urged the American people to put their shoulder to the "wheel of history" to forge brighter days from the misery of economic crisis. In Germany, Catholic and Protestant religious leaders called for solidarity with those affected by the economic crisis.

In Australia, war and the global crisis dominated holiday messages as thousands took to the beaches to celebrate Christmas on a sunny summer's day. "In the midst of our Christmas celebrations, it is important that we reflect on those in our community who are doing it tough," said PMKevin Rudd.